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

27.4.16

Sack the knife.

I was chopping some carrots using a vegetable knife with a short non-serrated blade. The carrots were quite hard. I slid the knife across and into the third carrot. The blade of the knife snapped suddenly at the point where it is imbedded in the handle. It rebounded against the force of my hand, flicked up and around like a soccer player doing a scissor kick, and stabbed me in the forefinger before flopping onto the table.

I threw the handle and the blade into the bin, after examining the break. The imbedded section was far too thin. It was the last cheap knife I will buy. Lesson: sack your cheap cutting knives before they crack up under the pressure and do you an injury.

*

I had been about to make a recipe I always drag out in autumn, an old favourite I learned from my mother before she gave up on all the old standbys.

Oxtail stew with garlic mash.

Using a quality knife, meaning a knife made just about anywhere except China, chop six celery stalks, two onions and two carrots. Score two cloves of garlic. Chop a small bunch of parsley to make at least half a densely-packed cupful. Chop four slices of prosciutto into tiny squares.

Place a kilogram of oxtail segments into a supermarket plastic bag with half a cup of flour and a teaspoon each of salt and ground white pepper. Close bag and shake to thoroughly coat oxtail in seasoned flour.

Heat some oil in a heavy pan and brown oxtail lightly. Then turn down heat and add chopped vegetables, parsley and prosciutto. Stir for five minutes or so.

Now add a tablespoonful of tomato paste, a 690g jar of tomato puree (or a couple of cans), a cup of red wine, a bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary and a mint leaf if you have any of the latter handy. Cover with water and bring to boil.

Simmer two hours on as low a heat as your stovetop will allow. Alternatively place the lot in a casserole and bake in a very slow oven.

Serve on mashed potato laced with garlic and parmesan cheese and showered with more parsley. Or polenta treated the same way.

19.4.16

A Shorter History of the Volkswagen Beetle.

In 1966, you were generally Holden or Falcon, hating the other with a passion equal to the Smith Street divide between Fitzroy and Collingwood. Every October, Bathurst fanned the tribal flames.

My brother and I were Holden because Dad got a new one every year for his job. He was a travelling salesman for John Dynon & Sons restaurant and hotel supplies. I used to go with him on school holidays and saw the inside of more restaurants by the age of ten than Simon Plant and John Lethlean put together.

My brother and I always looked forward to the new model and became connoisseurs of evolving automotive design, including the Volkswagen Beetle, which in the previous year had sold more cars in Australia than ever before. Volkswagens were everywhere. An uncle (not the farm uncle) bought a navy blue one and drove it like a Lotus Esprit around the Dandenong Ranges with us in it. I'd never been more frightened.

But not everyone had a Holden or a Falcon, or even a Beetle. The family next door – the Percy Crawfords – had a Chevrolet Belair the size of a tank. They achieved fame of sorts when Mrs Crawford lost control of the Chev in Bourke Street. The car rolled down the hill from Queen Street, and Mrs Crawford steered it into the window of Coles & Garrard to avoid a tram. The photograph on the front page of that night's Melbourne Herald showed the Chevrolet's nose buried in the shattered glass, its enormous chromed tail fins and bullet-shaped rear lights sticking well out into Bourke Street. It looked like a crashed alien rocket ship from Mars. Mrs Crawford was also in the picture, standing by the car forlorn but unhurt, wearing 1960s sunglasses and a sleeveless frock tightly belted at the waist. She looked like Jackie Kennedy. The astonished look on her face seemed to say, "Gosh! I wonder what Perc. will say!" Perc. would probably have said he was glad he bought a Chev, because if he had put Mrs Crawford in a Beetle she would have been dead.

*

One hot afternoon in January 1966, we were driving home to Melbourne after a weekend at an uncle's farm in Tanjil South. We were in our new HD Holden, cream with red vinyl, registration JEN-215.

My older brother and I were in front with Dad. The younger ones were brawling on the rear seat. My red-lipsticked, blonde pony-tailed mother was also somewhere back there in the tangle. Once a disciplinarian, she had seen the light after the first four children. One day she had read a Dr Spock book and had thenceforth let the next three children run rampant so as not to stunt their personalities or characters or dispositions or natures or whatever it was could be inhibited in the 1960s. My father was agnostic on the matter, but calm. In the driver's seat, he just smoked, whistled Harry Belafonte songs and drove on; unperturbed by noisy children or pop psychologists.

It was a long and winding road through the Gippsland hills. No freeways then. Princes Highway was a single lane each way and cars were always overtaking, sometimes passing three or four other vehicles in a row, each tucking in neatly before an approaching fully-laden semi-trailer could wipe it off the map. Volkswagen drivers were notorious. They seemed to believe that because their car had two doors it was a sports car.

Halfway back to Melbourne, probably around Drouin, another mad Beetle went past with its familiar clattering whine. It was a brand new one. My brother pointed. "What's different about that one?" he quizzed me.

I thought. "Bigger tail lights."

No, he said, they came in on the previous model.

"Number plate lamp cover."

No.

"1300 badge." No. "Larger rear window." On it went. As an older VW tore past, I tried to compare the two rear ends in my mind, like overlaid transparencies.

I couldn't pick it, and he wouldn't tell me. Fraternal rivalry. Later, we forgot about it. But every time I saw a '66 Beetle, I remembered the conversation, and tried to think of the answer, and failed. Until last week, when I picked up a book.

*

Classic Beetle, subtitled A VW Celebration, sounds and looks like a coffee table number, but it couldn't be farther from that. It has no clichéd Beetle or Kombi beach shots with surfboards, flower power stickers or anything vaguely resembling the kind of hackneyed nostalgia usually associated with the Beetle. Instead, the book is a forensic analysis of the design evolution of the world's biggest selling car ever. (Don't let anyone tell you that that title fell to the Toyota Corolla, because the only thing connecting the first Corolla with the 25 billionth one is its name.)

The photography is almost unbelievable. The cars - every model from the 1932 prototype to the 1990s Mexican Type 1 - are photographed in a cyc studio and reproduced with no obvious retouching aside from a drop shadow; yet there is no flare, no distracting reflection, no low points, and no distortion. The models are to scale so that the reader can compare models like for like, down to the tiniest detail.

And that's how I found that one small thing I had missed in January 1966. The engine lid twist closer on the 1965 model was changed to a push button fastener for 1966. I had missed it then because it is partially obscured by the bumper.

The book runs to 300 pages, with a design lover's feast of an appendix in which double page spreads are devoted to showing the evolution of individual components including wheels, headlamps, rear lights, rear-view mirrors, door handles, bonnet handles, number plate lights, turn signals, and dashboards.

*

Classic Beetle - a VW Celebration by Keith Seume, foreword by Brian Laban. Pavilion Books, London, 2015.

*

And now it's payback time. Amongst the hundreds of impeccable photographs in the book, there is one small production error. Find it, brother. I'll give you fifty years.

24.3.16

Spaghetti with avocado and mushrooms.

In a large pot, cook pasta. When almost done, place a dozen florets of broccoli and a dozen green beans into the same pot. Simmer three minutes. Add a dozen snow peas. Wait a minute, then drain the lot.

Meanwhile, heat some garlic in olive oil in another pan. Add a splash of white wine, some cracked black pepper, a dozen sliced button mushrooms and an avocado sliced into segments. Cook until mushrooms are almost soft, then add half a cup of cream, or more to taste. Reduce.

Arrange pasta and green vegetables in bowls, pour over mushroom, avocado and cream sauce.

21.3.16

The tyranny of virtue: my diversity's bigger than your diversity.

Consulting firm Deloitte explains its 'diversity' policy:
The approach to innovation leverages diversity and inclusion of people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, faith or disability.
So far so good. One of everything, like the child in the lolly shop. But consultants Deloitte should have consulted their mates over at PwC:
PwC senior executive Mark Allaby stood down from the board of the Australian Christian Lobby this month because his ACL work was in conflict with the values of the corporation for which he worked.
A firm of business consultants decides its values trump those of a religious organisation? Now I've heard everything. Diversity-ridden PwC rationalises the decision:
"When it comes to employee participation on external boards, if a conflict arises between an employee's board role and the best interests of PwC, we would request that the employee step down from that board," a PwC spokesman said of the matter.
The spokesman does not disclose how PwC regards the governing board of a religious organisation as a potential 'conflict' with PwC; nor how its much-vaunted diversity policy is suddenly subordinate to its 'best interests'. However, a clue can be found in PwC's website:
PwC have a focus on five dimensions of diversity - gender, cultural background, disability, and sexual orientation and generational (sic).
No mention of faith.

At half-time, it's a close game. Deloitte, six diversities; PwC five. Anything can happen in the second half. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, reporter Rick Morton nails the game:
PwC and a host of other corporate giants in Australia are paid-up members of ACON's Pride in Diversity program, which is a bit like the RSPCA free-range egg inspection racket: a fee for approval arrangement. Corporations can pay Pride in Diversity an annual membership rate starting from $2600 (plus GST) for small businesses ... ranging to $8600 for the biggest clients. Gold members ... donate an extra $5000 on top of these rates. ... There is no auditing ...

16.3.16

Vinyls records mentioned in two successive posts.

Somewhere in this tangled web, someone asked which music albums had, to quote, 'stayed with you'.

Now, I think the expression 'stayed with you' was intended to mean 'stayed in your consciousness'; in other words, your all-time favourites. But the figurative interpretation meant you could bend the list to please your peers. They can't physically look into your record cabinet.

So I decided to take the expression literally. I once owned hundreds of LP records, but over the years they dwindled in number. Of the remaining, some I will never throw out; others are rubbish and I should have binned them years ago.

Here are ten albums that have stayed with me: literally.

1. Running Down the Road by Arlo Guthrie. Famous for being the son of Woodie and his cult 23-minute hit 'Alice's Restaurant', Arlo Guthrie's 1969 release ticked all the boxes for post-flower-power motorcycle-riding hippies. The record belonged to my sister, and I kept it for safe-keeping after her death in 1981.
2016 rating: like riding a Triumph Trophy motorcycle without a helmet.

2. The Seekers by the Seekers. The first album by Australia's pet pop group, now in their dotage but still performing, zombie-like, at farewell performances. My father bought this album of folk standards in 1965 and I rescued (as in, stole) it from a pile of 1980s pop rubbish that my mother kept buying from op shops and adding to her overcrowded record drawer. (Smokey, anyone? Yep, my mother dragged home a 1979 Smokey album in 2001.) Pre-fame, the Seekers produced uncannily beautiful music. One listen to Judith Durham’s voice on 'All My Trials' and you'll never be a Seekers cynic again. 'Georgy Girl' might be the signature hit, but the Seekers' mainstream hits pale in comparison to this pre-flower power treasure.
2016 rating: the Sidney Myer Music Bowl lives.

3. Harvest by Neil Young. Every time I bought a record, I wrote the date inside the cover. This one reads 1 December 1973. 'A Man Needs a Maid' and 'There's a World' were recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra under David Meecham at Barking Town Hall, London. Rock combined with swirling orchestral arrangements had lasted decades and this was almost the end of the era, probably due to cost. Disco and its bastard child, bad electronic music, was a grim, cheap shadow just over the horizon.
2016 rating: old man take a look at your life.

4. Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Purchased 14 January 1974. Serial no. V20001, monochrome twins on label. The Piltdown man is Mike screaming onto sped-up tape which was then mixed at normal speed.
2016 rating: out-progged the prog rockers.

5. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Purchased 12 December 1974 from Brashs, Elizabeth Street. Back cover: "This Quadraphonic record is produced by the SQ system which permits the reproduction of sound from four separate channels when a special SQ decoder is used in association with suitable amplifiers and four loudspeakers."
2016 rating: matter of fact, it's all dark.

6. For Little Ones by Donovan. Produced by Mickie Most. A 1967 album virtually lost to the world, possibly because its title makes it sound like a children's record. Inside the psychedelic artwork are twelve all-acoustic tracks by Donovan based on folk, myth and fairy tale. An extraordinarily good album, regarded by some as his best work.
2016 rating: summer of love.

7. Peer Gynt Suite/From Holberg’s Days/Wedding Day at Troldhaugen by Greig. Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Schuchter. Purchased 1974. First of many World Record Club purchases and the only one I kept. Price, $2.97 postage included. Getting these, and others, in the mail was a joy. I'd arrive home from school, rip open the flat cardboard parcel and discover classical music on my white Kenwood stereogram in my own room.
2016 rating: pining for the fjords.

8. 1984 Grand Final by the Captain and the Major. Yes, in the days before vision, radio stations sold their call of the game on LP vinyl. This was the pre-McAvaney era when commentators were 'callers' and never over-dramatised the action. There is barely a raised voice in the most dramatic of last quarters when Jack Dyer and Ian Major describe the action as Essendon, under a glowering sky, destroy 19 years of heartbreaking loss - and the Hawks - in thirty minutes of possibly the best football ever heard.
2016 rating: 3KZ is football.

9. Romper Room by unattributed. No idea how this soundtrack of a children's television program came into my possession. There is no mention of author, presenter, singer or musicians on the cover, but the character Mr Do Bee has a registered trademark next to his name. A worldwide franchise, television stations bought the rights and produced it with their own talent. It pre-dated Sesame Street in its sanctimonious altruism. The cover notes: Romper Room provides education in the home ... The idea was to make learning seem like play and make playing a way to learn. Tracks include 'Bend and Stretch', 'The Punching Clown Song', 'Punchinello', 'Punch Ball' and 'Galloping to Romper Room'. My little sister used to watch the program and had a Mr Do Bee hand puppet.
2016 rating: punch drunk.

10. Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. From the days when Bob sounded less like a frog and more like ... Arlo Guthrie. 'I Threw It All Away' is a lost masterpiece now known only to Dylan fans. Johnny Cash sings on 'Girl From the North Country'.
2016 rating: lay lady lay.

11.3.16

A shorter history of alternative medicine.

One day in 1982 I picked up a heavy table at work and my life changed.

It wasn't the weight; it was the spread. The table was six feet long. I had it overhead, but it moved. I tried to move with it, but my feet held the ground and something shifted in my back. I thought someone had shot me.

They used to call it a slipped disc. An uncle of mine in the 1960s had a 'slipped disc' and couldn't walk. The term was graphic: it made me think he had a lopsided 45rpm record inside his torso.

I carried the virtual bullet around in my back for ten long agony-filled weeks. Doctors gave me painkillers. A chiropractor fussed delicately over my back with spindly fingers and then, without warning, folded me in two; the biggest mood swing I have ever experienced in a medical specialist, if that's what chiropractors are. Nothing worked.

It was worst after sitting. If you have back trouble, throw out your chairs. The chair is to the back sufferer what the wheel was to a medieval London felon. It will break you.

Time went by. I racked up the medical visits. I saw someone in Caulfield who put a metal gadget like a miniature car jack under my back, propped little wedges like door-stoppers adjacent to L5 and L6, and then released the jack. Part of my spine would suddenly drop half an inch or so.

I moved on to a chiropractor in Moonee Ponds. He was good. We used to have great chats. He told me he was always going off to chiropractors' conferences. I visited him for so long that I saw him through three phases. He learnt these at the conferences. His first phase was standard chiropractic, so he just worked on my back. In his next phase, he believed everything came from the feet, so he adjusted my ankles. The last time I saw him he was into Zoroastrianism and chanted while treating me. My back pain outlasted all these phases.

Years later I moved house and found another chiropractor. The first one hadn't bothered with x-rays, but the new one wanted to know what was going on in there. He pinned the x-rays on the light box with great drama and pointed to the murky bits of the image with a long stick, nodding tellingly. What a shock. It was a mess. I was surprised I could even walk. But the chiropractor had the answer: he put me down for two visits a week for twelve weeks, dropping to once a week after that.

Later, a running coach recommended an osteopath. The osteopath was a long way away. But that was good. It made every journey a pilgrimage. When you go a long way for a cure, it helps you believe. I had to go to East Kew, or Far Kew as it is known colloquially. It was a lovely practice, with flowers and soft music and new magazines and comfortable chairs in the waiting room. The osteopath had a certificate on his surgery wall saying he was immediate past president of the osteopath's society, so that meant he was good. It was certainly hard to get an appointment. Most of his clients were well-dressed East Kew ladies of that typical affluent upper middle class demographic. I wondered how they did their backs. It probably wasn't through lifting heavy tables, but that was none of my business. The things you think of when sitting in a waiting room.

The osteopath's technique was to open up energy paths. They were blocked through my ankles, right hip and right knee. How he knew, I have no idea. But he knew. In the past, I had had injuries to those precise locations. A broken right ankle, several severe sprains of the left, right hip damaged in a heavy fall, and bad knees. He got the energy flowing like the Merri Creek after a deluge.

I should point out here the pain was not continuous or even continual. It was random, and separated by periods of good health in which I lived normally, lifted heavy objects, broke up old driveways, dug up tree stumps, and competed in national level athletics. Back pain episodes were never triggered by major physical trauma, but a small movement like twisting slightly to adjust a picture on a wall, that kind of thing.

One cash-strapped day at the height of the GFC, my back popped out when I bent over to pick up a piece of Lego.

I did a calculation and decided I couldn't afford to go to the osteo that week. Or the next week. I would get through this episode without a pilgrimage.

A week later, when my back was considerably better without intervention, I did another calculation. I arrived at $60,000. It's not really that much when you consider that was almost thirty years' worth. $20,000 a decade. $2,000 a year. $1,000 every six months; an average of about two chiropractor, physio or osteopath visits a month, cost-averaging the fee from $40 to the current $100.

But still, I could have bought a house with it then.

I decided to adopt a new strategy, not that I now had any real choice. I would go cold turkey.

I haven't seen a chiropractor for six years. Back pain episode frequency has gradually diminished, and the recovery periods are getting shorter. I had long been aware that the kind of x-rays that showed the 'damage' in my back all those years ago will also reveal similar 'damage' in people with no symptoms. Conversely, x-rays of those with symptoms may not show any evidence of injury. So we can forget that piece of outright patient recruiting.

But it seems it goes further. The other day I was jogging (on grass - only ever on grass these days - at St Bernard's oval) with some running friends. One, a GP, was telling me she had been present at a physiotherapists' conference at which a delegate had given a speech suggesting that in some circumstances physiotherapy actually delayed recovery in some patients experiencing back pain. Apparently, the speech brought the house down. And not in a nice way.

29.2.16

Pasta nicoise for the last day of summer.

The hottest summer on record, they said. What a fizzer. Here in Coburg, we did not get through the half-price twenty-visit family ticket for Moreland aquatic centres. Five visits left. Barely any days over 40C. Hottest on record? Hardly. (Incidentally, that 30C-plus day last week was described by several newsreaders as a 'heatwave'. A heatwave used to be a run of high temperature days, but its meaning has been manipulated to indicate a single day of hot weather.)

*

And here we are at the last day of summer. Tonight: a dish I call warm pasta nicoise, because it contains some of the ingredients of the classic salad. I use linguini for the pasta.

Pasta nicoise.

Cook the linguine, drain it, and reserve a tablespoon of the liquid.

Sear a slice of fresh tuna keeping it still pink in the middle. Cut into cubes.

Return the pasta to the heavy pan with the liquid, a dash of olive oil, some very finely sliced onion rings and a crushed garlic clove. Add the tuna, some sliced truss tomatoes, a dozen pitted black olives, a dozen anchovies, and a dozen halved cooked green beans. Set over a very low heat. All you want to do is warm through the ingredients.

Place in serving bowls, top with quartered semi-boiled eggs, chopped parsley and cracked black pepper.

26.2.16

The egg and I.

I got off to a bad start with eggs. I was nineteen, out of home, and cooking for three.

I started with an egg. (Another time I cooked five sausages by placing them into a red hot pan to which they fused. Ten minutes later I had ships of raw sausage meat decks over carbon holds.)

I placed the egg in a saucepan and placed the saucepan on the stove and lit the stove. So far so good.

Then I went into another room and did something else. I don't know, putting clothes away, reading the sports section, making a landline phone call. Could have been anything.

Eight minutes later I came back into the kitchen. I sniffed the air. But it was too late. There was a sudden explosion, like a light globe being shot out. Something hit the ceiling. In fact, a lot of things hit the ceiling, and the upper parts of the walls. And they were all pale yellow.

I had forgotten the water.

The egg had heated up and exploded. It took me a day to clean the ceiling and I was still finding bits of egg and shell months later.

Until recently my early egg experience was still haunting me, and making me unable to boil an egg properly, so that it could be easily shelled. Then one day I decided this was just superstition and that I should get over it and learn how to do the job properly. Previously, my egg shells had always seemed to stick to the white and the peeled eggs looked like they had flesh-eating disease.

So I got over the early bad experience, did a bit of research, and learned how to boil an easy-peel egg. And this is how you do it.

The first mistake I used to make was to boil chilled eggs, because I kept them in the fridge. Eggs can be stored at room temperature, but if you must chill them, allow them to come to room temperature first. You can speed this up by placing them in a glass of warm water while you bring the water you are going to cook them in to the boil.

Yes! You boil the water first. Previously, I was putting cold eggs in cold water and then cooking them slowly. Instead, lower the room temperature eggs gently into simmering water with a spoon. Gradual lowering will help stop them cracking.

The next part is trial and error. For soft boiled eggs, I turn off the heat after four minutes, and leave the eggs in the water another five minutes. But your stove, pot, water and egg size will mean this is variable.

After five minutes, I drain them gently, rinse them under cold water to cool the shells so they won't burn my fingers, then I crack each egg on the tiled bench, and the shell comes away easily.

17.2.16

Pasta with onions: a dish to cry over.

Pasta with onions raises eyebrow; but veal parmigiana stole tomato sauce and cheese, so why can't pasta hijack something more commonly associated with meat dishes?

Pasta with onions, red capsicum and anchovies.

Chop two large onions into fine rings and saute them in a pan with olive oil. Add a little sugar to help brown them.

Meanwhile, bake a red capsicum until the skin chars. Remove from oven, and place in a paper bag to cool. The skin will now be quite easy to peel away. Cut the flesh into strips.

While the onions are melting into soft, fragrant brownness, cook the pasta. Slinky, slippery fettuccine works well with this dish.

Check the onions again. Do not allow to stick, let alone burn. Add a squeeze of lemon for a dash of acid and give the onions a stir.

Drain the pasta. Twirl it into a large serving bowl, add strips of roasted red pepper, several anchovies; and then top with the fried onion.


12.2.16

Pigeon Post.

Yet again we delve back into the archives of Kitchen Hand's head, from his ongoing life as a copywriter in advertising. Every one of these stories is 100% true and accurate, even the slightly exaggerated ones. Only the names have changed. Reminder: language warning, but no worse than in every agency - or construction site for that matter - across the land.

*

Another morning in the advertising agency. Another awards night over. Another trophy in the cabinet. Another lost night. Another hangover. Another growing feeling of dread about what happened, where it happened, and who it happened to. Another hamburger with the lot from the café over the road, cooked to order on the greasiest part of the grill to soak up as much brain-soothing fat as possible.

Another account service person walks into Leopard's office without knocking. Leopard is the creative director whose name was Leonard until he got into advertising. Thinking his name a little tame for a creative director, he employed the now hackneyed technique of changing one letter, moving the 'n' two letters down the alphabet.

TONY: Debrief on the CEO empowerment campaign in the boardroom in half an hour.

LEOPARD (DOESN'T TURN AROUND TO FACE TONY): Are you talking to me or reading your diary out loud in the personal space of my office?

TONY (SNAPS HIS DIARY SHUT): Both, actually.

LEOPARD: Then fuck off. And how about 'Good morning, Leopard, how was your night?'

TONY: Good morning Leopard, how was your night.

LEOPARD: You didn't mean that. Go away and come back again and say it sincerely.

TONY: What is this, fucking acting school? I'm not Take Five in one of your pretentious TV commercials, you know, Leopard.

LEOPARD: No. You're a bag carrier, Tony. You're a lot further down the food chain than an actor. Why don't you just send an email or a meeting reminder or something. Like everyone else does.

TONY: Because no-one ever turns up to meetings set up by email.

LEOPARD: That could only be a good thing, Tony. Meetings are mankind's single greatest waste of time after Facebook and bureaucrats, perhaps not in that order.

TONY: This one will be short.

LEOPARD: You say that every time, Tony.

LATER, IN THE BOARDROOM.

ROBERT (CLIENT): In short, we loved the concept for the DM campaign (direct marketing, known to the public as 'junk mail'). We loved the way you open the three-dimensional carton, and we loved the outer teaser that read "Are you pulling enough strings in your organisation?", and we loved the way when you peeled that off, it revealed a piece of interactive string with two words that read "Pull here to make your ideas fly", and we loved it when we pulled the string and the pigeon flew out.

LEOPARD (NODS CURTLY): Go on.

ROBERT (CLIENT): It flew around the room, and then it sat on top of the power point screen and it fouled the ledge where you put the pens and the remote control, but we still loved it!

We're just worried about the legality of using real live pigeons.

TONY: Leopard's done his research, as always, Robert; and he assures us we will use only carrier pigeons used to being transported and released, so that once you let them go they will fly straight back to their abodes or nests or boxes or whatever you call them. They cannot possibly come to any harm. Isn't that right, Leopard?

LEOPARD (YAWNS): Yep. Plus they're only fucking pigeons for Christ's sake. Take a look outside. There's a million of them playing in the traffic and shitting on the buildings. More heritage buildings in Europe are destroyed by pigeon shit than were bombed in world war two. Rats of the air, they call them. And anyway, we should be eating them. Pigeon pie. You'd save a million chickens from life as battery hens. So don't worry about their welfare.

ROBERT (CHOOSING HIS WORDS CAREFULLY): I'm not worried about their welfare, as such, Leopard, I just don't want a hundred worldwide animal rights activist organisations up in arms when we launch the campaign.

LEOPARD: What are they going to say? Homing pigeons used as homing pigeons? Birds made to fly? Attempted pigeocide?

TONY GUFFAWS BUT QUICKLY CONTROLS HIMSELF.

ROBERT: No, just the initial confinement.

LEOPARD (PATIENTLY): Robert, they have been hired from a pigeon fancier society, who has approved the program, the treatment of the birds, and the size of the vented box. They are being packed and despatched on the same day, and couriered direct to each of one hundred leading names on your database - all in one city - and delivered personally to the name on the pack.

ROBERT: What if they're not opened on the spot?

LEOPARD: The courier is instructed to personally hand over the pack to the CEO with instructions to open it immediately, preferably in the open air, or to return it to the depot where the pack will be opened, the pigeon restored to its temporary travelling cage and re-sent the next day.

ROBERT: You seem to have everything covered.

LATER THAT WEEK.

TONY (IN LEOPARD'S OFFICE): Well, we did a good job convincing Robert and the campaign flies today. Literally.

LEOPARD: I do the puns around here, Tony. Did you put me on the database so I can see first-hand that it works?

TONY: Yes. And myself. I just rang home. The pack had been delivered, and my wife released the pigeon and it's already been registered as having arrived back at its homing place. Worked perfectly.

THAT NIGHT, ABOUT 8PM. LEOPARD'S CAR PURRS INTO A GRAVELLED DRIVEWAY. HE GOES TO THE FRONT DOOR, FIDDLES WITH A KEY, STEPS INSIDE AND IS GREETED BY HIS WIFE, TIGER.

LEOPARD: Hi honey. How was your day? By the way, a large parcel should have arrived. Did you see it?

TIGER: Yes. Junk mail. I wish you'd put a sign on the letterbox.

LEOPARD (TURNS TO HER): It should have come to the door. It was one of my campaigns. I work in the business, as I've told you many times.

TIGER: It did come to the door. Still junk mail though. I opened it in the lounge room.

PAUSE.

LEOPARD: Yes?

TIGER: The door was closed.

LEOPARD: And?

TIGER: The cat was in the room too.

LONGER PAUSE THIS TIME.

LEOPARD: Oh no. Every pigeon was pre-identified by its addressee. Did the cat ...

TIGER: I'm afraid so. It took me all afternoon to clean up the carpet.

LEOPARD IS AGAPE. IN THE SILENCE, A SOFT GREY FEATHER FLUTTERS TO THE CARPET FROM THE CHANDELIER.

9.2.16

Melting cheese makes pasta dish unsurpassable.

Home made gnocchi makes the manufactured variety taste like footballs. Used footballs. Tough and leathery.

Simply fold some flour and an egg through mashed potato, roll into cylinders, flour them and cut them into one-inch lengths. Place on a floured tray until cooking, by dropping them into boiling water. Simple. Never buy the packet ones again, unless you like chewing on old footballs.

I made a roux of flour turned through melted butter, added a cup and a half of milk and warmed it on a low heat until thickened. Then I added half a cup of grated cheddar, a large knob of very mature blue cheese and half a cup of parmesan. Add milk if it gets too thick.

The resulting bubbling lava was poured over cooked gnocchi which was flecked with chopped parsley and cracked black pepper.

The plate was then placed under the griller until the cheese started developing a very appetising golden crust.

Probably the finest pasta dish on earth.

2.2.16

Keeping up with the corporate responsibility bullies.

January is a good time to work. I often pick up a week or two of freelance work at a number of advertising agencies when their writers are on holidays.

Sometimes the agencies are busy, but often there is not a lot to do apart from checking proofs, signing off artwork, advising account executives on basic points of grammar or spelling, going out for coffee at Brunetti's in the city square, browsing the collectable books in Kay Craddock's; that kind of thing.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in a large agency with not much to do. While I was waiting to be briefed on a job, I was idly reading through the agency's mission statement. It was a Monday morning and the job, a six page brochure for one of its financial advice clients, would be briefed in at the work-in-progress meeting at ten o'clock in the boardroom.

Mission statements are merely long-winded expressions of a strange blend of political correctness and the latest business management fads; and this was no different, despite it belonging to an advertising agency, which is meant to be a repository of the new and different.

It talked about the agency's 'modus operandi' and its 'unique selling proposition' and its 'village idiots' network of helpers, namely the freelancers and suppliers it declared were vastly superior to the network contacts of every other agency (thank you for the compliment, except I work for all the others as well).

Then I got to its 'environment statement', which was a subsection of its 'Corporate Social Responsibility' policy, commonly known as 'CSR' in the world of bullying NGOs, cowed major businesses and assorted other organisations striving to subvert the world of trade into a politically correct utopia in which no-one is better or worse than, or different to, anyone else, and everyone earns oodles of money, which comes from ... well, it must come from somewhere.

CSR was once a grand acronym denoting one of Australia's oldest and greatest companies, the Colonial Sugar Refinery. This is a great irony in itself, because every one of the three words in that magnificent title today offends a multitude of social activists, pressure groups and assorted rent-seekers. Today, even CSR probably has a CSR.

The agency's 'environment statement' embedded in its CSR went like this:
As an Australian company, Acme (not its real name, obviously) Advertising has a duty of care both to the local and the global environments.
Both? There's more than one environment?
We treat this stewardship seriously and acknowledge a relationship of interdependence between our business and the environment. What we do inside our office can have a lasting impact on the wider world.
While I was reading this, an account executive was mass-printing the work in progress documents in the alcove outside my office; thirty pages each (single-sided) times twenty people. Six hundred pages every Monday morning. The printer kept jamming and the account guy must was getting a little hot and bothered even though the building was beautifully air-conditioned against the thirty-degree Celsius morning. I read on.
Our sustainability policy also documents our core social and environmental responsibilities and commitments.
Also? I thought we were talking about that already.
We will continue to review our policy to ensure we stay up to date with new approaches to sustainability.
Like photocopiers and air-conditioning that work on 'alternative energy sources'.

Soon, the work-in-progress meeting got under way. They handed out the bulldog-clipped blocks of thirty pages weighing about a kilogram each. No-one read them, they just flipped through the pages while the MD droned on about the week's work. I threw mine in the bin, keeping the bulldog clip, when I got back to my office, switched on my computer and started a financial advice brochure.

1.2.16

Meatballs with parsley and mint: a tribute to the long-gone corner butcher shop.

Once upon a time, butcher shops had blue tiles on the outside, an inwardly slanting main window for easier viewing of the displayed product from the street, and sawdust on the floor.

The sawdust, combined with the smell of fresh meat, produced a curiously sweet aroma. The butchers used curly-leaf parsley to decorate the meat trays. The rich green of the parsley muted the sea of red meat and made it more appetising.

My mother's parcel of mince steak from R. J. Gilbertson in Puckle Street Moonee Ponds would often contain a few sprigs of the green herb, which would be cooked into the resulting patties.

Later, parsley was made obsolete as a garnish after the butchers invented those green plastic edging things. These days, the butcher's window itself has all but disappeared from the streetscape.

Greek-style meatballs with parsley and mint.

Put 600g of lean minced steak into a large mixing bowl with a cup and a half of finely chopped parsley, half a cup of finely chopped mint, a teaspoonful of oregano, two crushed and chopped cloves of garlic and a dash of salt and pepper.

Mix with wet hands and form into walnut-size balls.

Fry until done.

Squeeze plenty of lemon juice over the meatballs. Make a dipping sauce of Greek yogurt mixed with diced cucumber, chopped mint, dried oregano and paprika. Roll the meatballs up into fresh pita bread and serve with a salad of rocket, tomato, red onion, feta and balsamic vinegar.

Or cook them in a basic tomato sauce and serve over spaghetti.