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

15.12.17

Cannelloni stuffed with two cheeses and spinach.

Cannelloni from scratch? Couldn't be easier, as long as you have a piping bag.

Fry half an onion until translucent. Boil and drain 50g frozen spinach.

Add 500g fresh ricotta, 70g of parmesan cheese, the drained spinach and a tablespoon of butter to the cooked onion. Stir to combine over low heat for about a minute.

Make besciamella: melt 60g butter in a pot, add 60g flour, a dash of nutmeg and 500ml heated milk (don't boil) and mix to blend until flour is absorbed.

Make tomato sauce: fry half an onion, add a jar of passata and a third volume again of water, add some finely chopped fresh basil and parsley, a shake of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Simmer to reduce slightly.

Pipe cheese mixture into instant cannelloni tubes. You cannot force it in with a spoon, by suction, by gravity or any other way. I found out the hard way and then I went out and bought a pack of disposable piping bags for a couple of dollars at Mediterranean Wholesalers*.

Line a baking dish with a smear of besciamella, add the cannelloni tubes, pour over the rest of the besciamella, then pour over tomato sauce. Bake 30-40 minutes in a moderate oven.

*The store's motto 'why pay boutique prices south of the Yarra' is one of the truest advertising lines in existence. It is a no-nonsense place with a huge stock selection, a customer count that includes more Italian grandmothers than Brunswick hipsters, and a cafe serving inexpensive pastries and other treats.

13.12.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene Three: Buffalo Finance agrees to take part.

Craven is trying to convince the creative team that his radical plan to change the face of advertising will work. He even has some clients in mind who, he says, are prepared to share a spot in order to reduce the cost of television advertising.

GUY: Instead of jamming two clients in one thirty second spot, you could just run a fifteen second spot for each client, Craven. Have you thought of that?

CRAVEN: Well you could, of course, Guy; but then you also have the possibility of placing two clients in each fifteen-second spot as well. Bear in mind the production cost savings. Two clients, one production. Plus, we can charge each client more than half the production cost so we make extra there as well. Moreover, we feel that the longer on-screen exposure will more than compensate for the fact that two clients are sharing the time.

ROB: It's still nuts, Craven.

PAUSE

And you're a crook if you're using it to expand the margins.

CRAVEN: Crap, Rob. It's called making money. Whatever it takes. Why don't you take the blinkers off? Open your eyes to the possibilities.

As I mentioned, Buffalo Finance are already happy to do it. Their commercial will be the first Shared Airtime commercial off the rank. They have agreed to split the cost of both production and airtime with another company. As an edgy client, they want to dissociate themselves from normal, traditional, boring financial services advertising, and they feel that this new initiative will help them break the mould.

GUY (OFFENDED): The script we've already written for them isn't boring or traditional, Craven. Now you want to go and fuck it up by sticking another client in it. It'll be like having Jackie Chan doing kung fu in the middle of The Sound of Music. Or a bunch of orcs chasing six hobbits along a mountain pass in The Italian Job followed by Gandalf driving a Ferrari.

CRAVEN (LAUGHS UPROARIOUSLY): HA! EXACTLY! You've nailed it, Guy! That is exactly what it will be like! And people will love it! They'll sit up and take notice! They'll look for the difference! And compared to that, normal single-client commercials will all look totally boring! Like your instant soup spot – who's going to sit through that shit when you already know it's about soup and nothing else?

ROB: It's not our fault that spot was boring, Craven, as you very well know. And it wasn't boring because it only had one client in it - it was boring because Harrison Soups is the single most boring client in the world. You know we wanted to film the soup spot on Everest using that guy who lost his legs to frostbite but still scaled it on prosthetic legs. We wanted to show him drinking soup on top of the mountain and warming himself up. You know that, Craven. But nooooooo – the client rejected the idea and wanted to shoot it in someone's kitchen like every other soup commercial. They wrote that commercial, Craven, we didn't.

CRAVEN (UNFLAPPABLE): There was a certain budgetary issue involved, Guy. Helicopters and Sherpas don't come cheap, let alone airfares to Nepal. Anyway, getting back to Buffalo Finance ...

GUY: What do we do with the script we've already written for them?

CRAVEN: The Mick Jagger testimonial one? You have complete freedom to adapt it or come up with an entirely new concept.

ROB: Have you another client in mind, Craven? And has it a similar positioning in the marketplace, a shared target market, a synergy of styles? Is it going to be compatible in one commercial with the staid, sober Buffalo Finance, Craven?

CRAVEN: Yes, I do have another client in mind, Rob. And of course there will be synergies. You'll invent them! After all, you're the creative geniuses!


TO BE CONTINUED.

11.12.17

The Man Who Invented the Sentimental Novel.

On an unseasonally hot day in October 1965, I was taken to see a movie at the Paris Cinema in Bourke Street, Melbourne. In the film, The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer played Captain von Trapp, and was later scathing about the movie.

Last week I saw Plummer play Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas, this time at Village Airport West, which was a field of thistle with Vickers Viscounts flying over it in 1965. Right now is the time of year when Christmas-themed movies hit the cinemas, but The Man Who Invented Christmas is not really about Christmas. It is about Charles Dickens' struggle to write a book following two 'failures' after several hits. It should have been titled Famous Novelist Suffers Writer's Block for 104 Gripping Minutes, but that would not have helped box office sales.

Dickens is struggling to pay the bills, his agent is getting nervous, he is continually interrupted by family members, and his destitute father comes to stay. Then he sacks the most pleasant person in the movie, the Irish maid. Stupid Charles Dickens. His characters come alive and sit around in his studio insulting him while he is trying to write about them. There are flashbacks to his childhood when he was abandoned by his father and consigned to the workhouse.

Dickens finally succeeds writing a quickie in six weeks (what writer's block?) and A Christmas Carol never goes out of print (nor do the two 'failures').

No writer should miss The Man Who Invented Christmas.

6.12.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene Two: Craven's TV audience rant.

Craven, the account man at advertising agency Blake Browning Burns, has been working in secret with the strategy planners to develop a new concept in advertising - two clients sharing one television commercial.

He is briefing the creative team in the small meeting room known as 'The Cupboard'. The creative team are not impressed and, after June the tea lady interrupts, the argument resumes. Language warning.


GUY: That is fucking INSANE, Craven.

ROB: Totally nuts. It can't work.

GUY: That's the stupidest idea I've heard since ... your last stupid idea.

ROB: For example, the clients would fight over owning the end frame.

GUY: Yeah. And whose typeface would you use?

ROB: And what about logos?

CRAVEN: Pfffffft! Minor details, guys. We have huge fights about all that shit now. An extra client in the ad isn't going to make a huge difference.

GUY: Apart from that, where are you going to find two clients who want to go into one commercial?

CRAVEN (EXPECTING THIS SCEPTICISM FROM CREATIVE, AFTER ALL IT'S THEIR NATURE TO BE SCEPTICAL):

Easy. You just put the proposal to each client, ask if they'd like to be part of the biggest thing to hit advertising since broadcasting began, and they're already eating out of your hand.

GUY: Whose idea was this, Craven?

CRAVEN (A SLIGHTLY NERVOUS PAUSE): Ah, it was mine, Guy. Why?

ROB: This 'concept' could single-handedly destroy the advertising industry as we know it, Craven. You know that, don't you?

CRAVEN: That's crap. I'm not going to destroy it, Rob, I'm going to re-invent it. The advertising industry is a dinosaur at the moment. It's populated by creatives who look so cutting-edge it's not funny - primped up little fast boys dressed like edgy homies, wired to the gills with technology and spouting jargon like there's no tomorrow ... but what do they actually come up with?

PAUSES FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT

Thirty second commercials for half-dead brands running on free-to-air television that nobody watches, that's what.

ANOTHER PAUSE

You know what, guys? The mantra of the thirty or sixty second television commercial being top of the hierarchy is bullshit. It's not even yesterday's thinking. It's 1960s thinking. 1950s, even. Have you seen daytime TV lately? It used to be watched by housewives in the days when they stayed home and spent their time productively making their lives better by sitting around watching TV in between drinking sherry and screwing the milkman. Now the only women at home are single mothers who haven't got any money, and if they have it's stolen, and then they just spend it all at the casino or on drugs. Goodbye, daytime packaged goods advertising. Yet you guys still come up with cheesy shit portraying cosy households sitting around drinking instant packet soup because no-one's got any time to cook any more. The mother's a lawyer and the father's an idiot and the kids are in childcare. And media still runs it on daytime TV.

ANOTHER PAUSE

That's like Ford continuing to make the Model T.

CRAVEN GATHERS HIS BREATH

It's the same at night: everyone's either online or not home. And if they're home they haven't got the TV on. Or if they have got the TV on, they're drunk. Or if they're not drunk, they're channel surfing during the ads. And if they're not channel surfing during the ads, that means they can't move. And if they can't move, that means they're ninety-five year old patients with dementia in a nursing home ... and that dribble running down their chin onto their laps isn't because they're salivating at your instant soup commercial, it's because they can't help it.

See? The industry as we know it with cutesy little commercials on prime time TV is stuffed, Guy. Totally stuffed. There's no audience any more. So we have to think outside the square.

ANOTHER LONG PAUSE

GUY: Thinking outside the square is one thing, Craven, but you're thinking outside the entire Venn Diagram. You're in another dimension. You're on another planet and it's not even in our solar system. Probably not even in our galaxy.

TO BE CONTINUED

5.12.17

"What's that you're listening to?"

I pulled the EP record out of its cardboard sleeve, put it on the mono turntable and lowered the needle on to the record.

It hissed and crackled (the needle was worn) and then a piano introduced the song.

In the next room the adults' conversation (God knows what they were talking about) slowly dried up. Someone dropped a tea cup. The parish priest was visiting and they were having afternoon tea.

Let's spend the night together, now I need you more than ever. ... I'll satisfy your every need. Now I know you satisfy me ...

It was 1967. I was ten.

A couple of years later I put an LP album on the turntable. It was a stereo now, a speaker either side connected by wires.

Lay lady lay ... lay across my big brass bed ...

Again, the adults in the next room turned purple, metaphorically. "What are you listening to?" the adults asked me, somewhat superfluously. I didn't answer such a stupid question, I just held up the cover. It had a smiling man holding a guitar with the Nashville skyline in the background.

Another couple of years went by and the Kinks released 'Lola' which was infamous because the BBC had banned it.

I met her in a club down in North Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola


It was fairly innocuous; teenage boys hardly care about the lyrics of a song, whereas adults who are normally stone-deaf will pick a contentious lyric three rooms away. For God's sake, leave me alone, it's just a friggin' song.

The early 1970s arrived and the stereo gathered dust because the household had purchased a small, heavy oblong machine. It was a Sanyo cassette recorder, model 2000G. Suddenly I could record my favourite songs directly off air. I filled dozens of cassettes with them, including voice intros or outros by DJs such as Ken Sparkes, John Scott, Laurie Bennett, Peter Hitchener, John O'Donnell, Bill Rule and many others. I played the tapes so often that, when a song from the past finishes on radio today, I go on to mentally sing what followed it on my old tapes.

You weaken my defences ... with your tender kisses ... guided missile ... bound to explode ...

4.12.17

Grocery items 'curated': retailer admits museum status.

The Herald Sun reports on the changing nature of food retailing, in which RMIT marketing expert Con Stavros utters this gem of wisdom:
"Food, in general, has become much more of an experience."
More than what? He doesn't say. Meanwhile, floundering dinosaur retailer David Jones spokesman Pieter De Wet puts the following hilarious spin on having a product range of only 6,000 items compared to the average supermarket's 25,000:
"If you go to a normal grocery store, you have to go through 25,000 products," he said. "We’ve got a curated collection of about 6000 products. We've chosen the best for our customers knowing what they like and expect. It's a quarter of the number of choices you have to make, we've done all the work for you."

1.12.17

Big tin soldiers.

I thought it was a dream, because I hadn't seen a mahogany staircase in a restaurant for twenty years, or maybe I just hadn't been to one. The staircase led up into complete darkness, until my eyes got used to it. I reached a landing, turned and kept going. At the top of the stairs it was still dark enough to trip over the brass strips at the edges of the axminster that led into the vast room. The carpet seemed to have tones of burgundy and deep violet, but who could tell in that light? It looked like the cover of The Zombies 1968 psychedelic album 'Odessey and Oracle', but it might have been forest green. I looked around. Inset into the north and west walls of the room were four giant tin soldiers, standing sentinel like armour suits in a medieval castle. I thought I had stumbled into a Victorian-era children's nursery at midnight, and had shrunk. The east wall was in almost full darkness, but voices and the flash of light on glass gave it away as a bar. Figures kept emerging like wraiths. Some of them carried trays. The trays bore drinks. In the cool darkness, tables were set in different formations, and one long table had a king's throne at one end and a chair with angel's wings at the other. Round green candles like little globes of the world sat on the tables, slowly melting down from their ice-caps.

*

The whole effect was completely bizarre. The street I had left a minute earlier was a 35-degree-celsius oven, the westering sun paint-stripping the buildings on the east side of the street.

I had pushed open a massive door and gone into a cool blackness that paled to a dim hallway, off which were two rooms of scattered tables and chairs, a bar at one side, and a door at the far end that led to a beer garden. Then I had seen the staircase and ascended into the place of the mahogany chairs and the axminster and the big tin soldiers.

*

Someone beckoned and I was shown to the long table with the throne and the angel chair. Three vacant chairs remained, and the someone pointed to one, and I sat in it. The table was already laden with appetisers/entrees/amuse bouches/crudites or whatever they are calling them this year; the kind of thing you eat when you are waiting for something to eat. Platters held long, thin breakable portions of grilled ciabatta that were piled up high like abandoned railway sleepers, and which could be broken and used as edible cutlery to scoop up the tapenades that were lined up alongside the ciabatta platters like docking satellites. Other platters held thinly-sliced prosciutto and other smallgoods rolled up into tiny flutes that you could hook with an end of ciabatta shard, and there were pots of dried olives and pickled vegetables. Someone, a waitress, appeared out of the darkness and placed a very cold and very large glass in front of me and disappeared. I didn't see her again for half an hour. She must have known we had a lot of talking to do before we wanted to eat again. We talked. We talked about history. The half hour passed. Then the waitress appeared again carrying a stack of black folders. I emerged out of the fog of the early twentieth century and reached for the folders, thinking she was bringing source material out of some archive. But they were menus.

Another half an hour went by. The she inquired if anyone wanted to eat anything. They did, and pointed to the archive/menus. I chose something and promptly forgot what it was. It didn't matter. You wouldn't starve, and there were still plenty of ciabatta battleships. I broke one and hooked some kind of red matter that tasted of a cross between how the Coral Sea brine would smell from a timber schooner at 8 a.m. on a summer morning, and a seafood beach barbecue at midnight. I think it was tarama. I finished the stick. We kept talking. Then we were back to the present and the tables were cleared of the appetiser wreckage and old glasses, and dinner arrived.

Shortly afterwards, someone asked me how was the crab; and I said good, suddenly remembering I had pointed to tagliatelle with crab and asparagus and sugar peas. It was the sea again. It even looked like the sea, or one of those diorama things we used to make at school: crabs snapping their way through asparagus seaweed and waves of ribbon pasta. Not that I could see it; the place was still lit only by green globes that had now burned down to their tropics of cancer. While talking about history I had been mesmerised by their wax oozing down like lava and pooling in the plates under the melting globes.

Someone opposite me at the table had a kind of international chicken parmigiana with taleggio and soppressa with hand cut chips that looked like the morning's work of a woodcutter. Someone else had ordered the $72 rib eye on the bone, a deep purple hatchet of meat with a side of fries rising over it like a pine forest on a mountain and some vegetables in the lee of the bone, all on a plate the size of a butcher's chopping block. I wondered if the waitress had a sprained wrist. They probably had OH&S warnings in the kitchen. Where was the kitchen? The waitresses had seemed to appear from nowhere, and it occurred to me that I hadn't heard the characteristic banging of swing doors, let alone the searing roar of a chef flinging steaks on the grill.

No-one wanted dessert.

Later, I went down the mahogany stairway, holding the rail in the dim light like a climber descending the Corno Grande at midnight. Outside, the heat hit me like a runaway train.

Woodlands Hotel
84 Sydney Rd
Coburg


*

Well, I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat


27.11.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene One: June interrupts the meeting.

Guy, a copywriter, and Rob, his art director are a creative team at Blake Browning Burns. They have just walked into the meeting room they call 'the cupboard' because it is small and intimate enough for closed-door meetings of two or three people. (It is generally suspected around the agency that such 'meetings' have also taken place after, or even during, Friday nights drinks.)

Craven, the account director, follows them into the room. Craven is tall with jet black lank hair, and has affectations, and wears loud suits. He looks like a character from a Raymond Chandler novel, possibly Lindsay Marriott from 'Farewell My Lovely'. 'Craven' is his surname but he uses it as his first name. It fits.

In the room, Craven throws a fat manila folder diagonally onto the table with a thump, slewing out a bunch of briefing notes.


CRAVEN: Guys!

GUY (DEADPAN): Guys what?

CRAVEN: I'm just saying 'Hello!'

ROB: No, you're not, you said 'Guys!'

CRAVEN: It means 'Hello'. It's shorthand for 'Hello, guys!' which sounds too stilted, so I just say 'Guys!'

GUY: I suppose you've worked out a way to avoid having to indulge in any actual small talk before having sex.

CRAVEN: That is an appalling slur, Guy. Shall we start? I've got something here that will blow your socks off.

ROB: I've heard that before.

CRAVEN DOESN'T REPLY, BUT OPENS THE MANILA FOLDER AND HOLDS UP A STAPLED DOCUMENT WITH 'HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL' STAMPED ON THE COVER.

CRAVEN: Guys, here is the brief for your very first two-client television commercial. You know the Buffalo Finance spot you're working on? Well, they're sharing the spot with another client.

SHOCKED SILENCE ENVELOPS THE ROOM

GUY: What??

CRAVEN (SMILES INGENUOUSLY, OR EVEN DISINGENUOUSLY): What do you mean, 'what'? It's a two-client TV commercial. There's another client sharing the spot. And the cost.

ROB: I don't think I understand.

HE TURNS TO GUY

Do you understand, Guy?

GUY: I'm trying very hard not to, Rob, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I think I actually do.

CRAVEN: It's like this, guys: our strategy planners have been putting together a raft of innovative strategies ...

GUY: Well, they are strategists. It's their job. And why are strategies always innovative? Can't some of them be tried and true ones?

CRAVEN: Why? Because then, strategists wouldn't have jobs. They would just be ordinary account people doing normal account work. Don't interrupt.

HE OPENS UP THE 'HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL' DOCUMENT, AND CONTINUES SPEAKING

One of their innovative strategies has been to develop a time-sharing initiative to fight the rise of online advertising and web-based brand growth that is eating into mainstream TV and other media advertising, making it too cost-inefficient for many clients.

GUY: And?

CRAVEN: And so, they have developed the world of advertising's very first Shared Advertising System - called, logically, SAS. Effectively, we write a TV commercial for two clients at once.

THERE IS A STUNNED SILENCE BROKEN ONLY BY ... BY NOTHING. IT IS TOTAL SILENCE, THE KIND OF SILENCE THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES.

BUT THE SILENCE IS SMASHED BY JUNE, THE TEA LADY, WHO ENTERS THE ROOM IN HER USUAL FASHION BY CRASHING HER TROLLEY THROUGH THE SLIGHTLY AJAR DOOR. SHE STARTS PICKING UP CUPS LEFT BEHIND AFTER A PREVIOUS MEETING.

JUNE: I wish you people would pick up your cups. It's not my job.

GUY: They're not ours, June.

JUNE BUSTLES OUT, TEACUPS RATTLING.

CRAVEN (AFTER AN UNCHARACTERISTIC PAUSE): Did she say it's not her job?

ROB (WONDERINGLY): Yes, she did.

ANOTHER DEAD SILENCE THAT SAYS A LOT, BUT ON A DIFFERENT SUBJECT TO THE LAST ONE.

CRAVEN: But she is the tea lady, isn't she?

TO BE CONTINUED.

22.11.17

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.

16.11.17

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.

GUY AND ROB TOGETHER: Great. (YOU CAN HEAR THE ENTHUSIASM IN THEIR VOICES. OR YOU COULD IF IT WAS THERE)

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.

(PAUSES TO LET THAT SINK IN. ANGELO JUST STARES, OPEN-MOUTHED. SO DOES ROB)

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?

ANGELO (BLINKING): What?

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.

14.11.17

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.

13.11.17

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.



2.11.17

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.

25.10.17

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.