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


First, catch your escaped salmon.

Farmed salmon is either the best thing you can eat, or environmentally unsound depending on who you ask. Something about encroaching on unfarmed fishes' territory, or their residue spoils the water for the natives, or the farmed fish can escape. In the past a riposte such as the W. C. Fields quote about fish could blow these nonsensical theories out of the water but today any rational reply is met with a sanctimonious gaze through eyes that are slightly unsteady.

Salmon with beurre blanc.

The sauce
Reduce 3/4 white wine to 1/4 white vinegar in a pan with a sprig of tarragon, a bay leaf, ten black peppercorns and a chopped spring shallot. Cool and strain. Place two tablespoons of this reduction into a pan with a tablespoon of cream. Reduce this by half and then gradually whisk pieces of cold, diced butter until thickened slightly. Add the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper.

The fish
Cook salmon fillets gently in a pan with a little butter and lemon juice.

The vegetable
Cut four peeled waxy potatoes into half-centimetre slices, boil gently until just soft.

Layer potatoes on serving plates, salmon on top, beurre blanc over.

There is great pleasure in being on the sea, he thought, in the unknown and the wild suddenness of a great fish; and there is satisfaction in conquering this thing which rules the sea it lives in.
- Hemingway


Champions 1, Stablemates 1

This is hard to watch, but incredible. Hard because they run the wrong way in Sydney (explanations are vague but New South Wales also tried to sabotage the southern colony by building their railways on a different gauge and playing a different ball game) but incredible because of the outcome.

Either a barrier attendant was holding her late, or the starter let them go before she was settled, or she reared and nearly dropped Hugh Bowman; either way Winx came out four or five lengths behind the field. Her eventual overtaking of seven horses occurs in the last six hundred on the outside, despite being almost outfoxed at the post by stablemate Foxplay. But not quite! In a mirror event, Arrogate failed went down to his stablemate.

Jockey Hugh Bowman repeated how I described Winx on Saturday, but it's hardly a unique claim:

"She's a freak!"


Equine quest for world domination.

Winx v. Arrogate:
Winx hasn’t been beaten for more than two years and, after this weekend, she could even be rated the best galloper in the world if US champ Arrogate has his colours lowered again at Del Mar in California on Sunday morning.
She's a freak:
A recent university study identified Winx’s stride and, to be more precise, the frequency of her stride as a clue to her extraordinary ability. Winx’s stride length was measured at about 6.8m, which is longer than the average. The mighty mare takes about 170 strides per minute — compared to an average racehorse’s 140 per minute — which underlines her ability to sustain top speed for longer than her rivals.
A longer stride at a faster frequency? That's freakish. Could we train humans to do that? Probably not - four legs v. two means there is some kind of a gearing phenomenon at play.


I still see her dark eyes glowing ...

Three Glenn Campbell favourites, all of whom are Jimmy Webb compositions:

1. 'Galveston'

2. 'Wichita Lineman'

and the lesser known:

3. 'Where's the Playground, Susie'

and maybe this as well:

But she'll just hear that phone keep on ringing
Off the wall, that's all

Read Jimmy Webb's tribute to Glenn Campbell.


Six interesting facts about Armenia.

1. Armenia has very nice views.

2. Archaeological surveyors found the world's earliest known leather shoe there in 2010.

3. An Armenian edged out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan in an 'entertainer of the century poll' in 1998*.

4. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion thanks to apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew who preached there circa AD40, possibly due to the nice views.

5. Armenia's coat of arms bears an image of Mt Ararat, traditionally the place where Noah's Ark landed.

6. 'Armenian potatoes'. (See below.)


Armenian potatoes is one of the best side dishes you've never heard of. Or maybe you have. Maybe you cook it every week.

But I'd never heard of it until I came across the recipe in an ancient cookbook. It takes old potatoes, dices them, turbocharges them with garlic and pairs the slow, sweet burn of paprika with the acid tang of tomato. Then it all fires up in the oven into a crunch-laden flavour explosion that will make you forget what the main event was.

Armenian potatoes.

One kilogram of old potatoes. They have to be old for some reason to do with chemistry or the water content. Or maybe all potatoes are old in Armenia because they have to travel a long way across the Caucasus Mountains from Russia. I don't know.
Tablespoon of oil
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
One cup water
One teaspoon salt
One teaspoon paprika
Six cloves garlic
One cup parsley, chopped

Peel the old potatoes and cut them into small dice. Chop or mince the garlic. Tumble the chopped potatoes and garlic through the oil and then the tomato paste to coat; then toss through the salt, paprika, parsley and pepper. Place in a casserole and add the water.

Bake in a moderate oven for about three quarters of an hour, then serve alongside rare steaks and pretend you are a dinner guest at the Gugark Hotel in Vanadzor.

*Charles Aznavour.


Google celebrates purple haze.

Doodle Google story here. Or visit doodle artist here.

The fine art of stating the obvious.

It's always a thrill to find out something you didn't know. Today, Herald Sun economics reporter Paul Gilder revealed that:
A Deloitte Access Economics report this week found Victoria's generation capacity had been reduced in the wake of the March closure of the Hazelwood power station.
Ignorance-busting revelations to come include
(a) most birds fly
(b) sun rises in the east
(c) KFC is delicious
(d) the side with more points wins.

It must be fun working at Deloitte. Get all your self-evident reports out of the way in the morning, and you've got all afternoon to sit around leveraging diversity.


Rigatoni with chickpeas and footnotes.

Everyone talks the talk about supporting farmers but few walk the walk.

It's all very well paying an extra forty cents for milk, but it's mere gesture purchasing if you then go to the next aisle and load up on Mutti passata, or any Italian tomato product for that matter.

Mutti preaches a responsible approach to nature, so why spoil that by shipping the things halfway round the earth? I'm turning locavore one can at a time.

Australian canned tomatoes including cherry tomatoes are sitting right next to the imports, so use them instead.

Rigatoni with tomato, herbs and chick peas.

Chop an onion finely, and cook in olive oil1 until translucent. Add a crushed clove of garlic. While it's cooking, puree two cans of diced tomatoes. Add the pureed tomatoes, a dash of salt, a dash of sugar, a dash of chili pepper and half a teaspoon of dried basil to the onion. Cook gently. Add a little water if necessary to achieve a smooth, saucy consistency. Toss in half a can of chick peas2.

Simmer a minute or two and fold through a tablespoon of cream at the end of cooking.

Cook 500g (regular pack) of rigatoni3 in plenty of salted water. Drain and add sauce. Top with grated parmesan4 if you wish.

1 See note re tomatoes.
2 Could be a problem getting local ones but let's just worry about the tomatoes and olive oil for the moment.
3 Plenty of local pasta varieties available including Da Vinci and La Triestina without having to buy the pretentious imports.
4 You're getting the idea.


AFL in move back to East Melbourne.

The Australian Football League is planning a return to its spiritual home, and will move its headquarters back to East Melbourne after 17 years in Docklands.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the return to East Melbourne placed the AFL in the best position to play a leadership role in the nation's ethics.

"2 Cathedral Place is not just a couple of drop punts from the MCG," he said, "but it also has a history of moral high ground which is a perfect fit with our corporate ethos."

McLachlan was excited about the move, saying the additional building on the site could be utilised for special events. "St Patrick's Cathedral is the perfect location for media conferences," he said. "Its heritage-listed pulpit will allow me to be well-heard on a range of current issues," he added.

McLachlan said it could also be used on Brownlow night to read votes, subject to the venue gaining a liquor licence.

The former tenants of 2 Cathedral Place have been issued a notice to vacate and the building is expected to be available by the weekend. The tenants include Denis Hart and several of his mates who said they may join the Elizabeth St homeless camp if they cannot find alternative accommodation.

The move to East Melbourne will bring a rearrangement of roles within the AFL following recent retirements of key personnel following behavioural issues.

The reshuffle will also affect Gillon McLachlan, whose role will be redefined.

His new title moving forward will be Archbishop McLachlan.

"Suits are so old hat," he said. "The new AFL corporate dress has been developed from heritage uniforms found in the Cathedral."

McLachlan will wear the new corporate uniform of flowing white robes and a bishop's mitre at a game when he returns from Europe.


The Book Detective.

These books were common in the 1950s and early 1960s when they were imported from Britain for the huge Australian baby boomer market, then still in their infancy to early teens.

They were often given as birthday or Christmas gifts; Lego, electronic devices and gift vouchers were yet to be invented. (However, there was Airfix.) Today they are hardly collectors' items but their retro illustration styles are of interest.

I found the above example above in the Melbourne CBD's last second-hand bookstore, a goldmine in a basement off Flinders Street. You could spend a week in there and not get bored.

I got Film Fun Annual 1955 home and opened it. Just before the title page was a feature common to older books. This was the 'This Book Belongs To ...' page, shown below.

I looked closely at the inscribed name.

Now, just a moment. That is not a common name. Could there have been two - or more - Ralph Doubells in Melbourne in 1955? Quite possibly. But somehow I doubt it.

If anyone knows Ralph Doubell, tell him I have his book. He can have it back again if he wants it.


City Basement Books
Basement, 342 Flinders St.,


Ralph Doubell earlier mentioned in this blog here.


Making zucchini interesting one ingredient at a time.

"The first zucchini I saw I killed it with a hoe," goes the famous quote, complete with superfluous pronoun.

Presumably the author gave up after his first kill, especially if he were to find Dave Barry's zucchini experience accurate: "You can't grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt."

The point is that more boring a vegetable is, the more jokes are written about them. But nobody laughs at the following recipe.

Spiced zucchini stew with chick peas and olives.

Fry a large chopped onion in olive oil until soft.

Add two scored garlic cloves, a tablespoonful of grated orange zest, a teaspoonful of cummin and a half teaspoonful of dried crushed red pepper. Stir until well combined.

Now add about a half kilogram of diced white zucchini, two cans of diced tomatoes with their juice, a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, and twenty pitted black olives. Salt to taste.

Simmer until the zucchini is tender. Add water if necessary.

Serve over peppered polenta: cook polenta, crack twenty black peppercorns in mortar and add them to the polenta along with salt to taste and grated parmesan cheese.

Garnish the stew with parsley, minced garlic and grated lemon zest.

You won't believe it's a zucchini.


Pick the difference, apart from $1.09.

A. Coles Tuna in Brine, 80c.

B. Dine Tuna Slices in a Light Jus $1.89.

Answer below.

A is normal canned tuna. B is cat food.


Baked pasta shells with three cheeses and spinach.

I usually make lasagna from scratch but of the frozen ones from supermarkets, the Aldi 2kg pack is very good value at $8.99 and looks and tastes like the real thing. The front of the pack proclaims that it 'serves ten', so I put it to the test.

I cut the cooked lasagne into sections and served them, and the children (age 11, 10 and 6) despatched these in minutes. Second serves disappeared likewise. Alex dropped out first, but she hadn't played two hours of football. It was a race to the finish for Thomas and William but William prevailed. The pack served three. Three children. But it was still excellent quality and good value: these children eat like horses. Or is the expression "I could eat a horse"? I can never remember.

Another variation on the baked pasta category is one I have made many times over the years and may have posted once or twice in this blog.

Baked giant pasta shells.

You can find the large ones at Italian delis (such as T-Deli in Sydney Rd, Mediterranean Wholesalers, Gervasi etc).

These shells grow to about two inches from bow to stern once you've cooked them, and you'll need a baking dish large enough to accommodate them. I made 24, boiling until just softening, then draining and running them through cold water to stop them softening any further.

I filled them flat with a mixture of 500g thawed frozen spinach, 500g fresh ricotta, 100g mozzarella, 50g parmesan, two eggs, a good dash of nutmeg and three smashed cloves of garlic.

Set them in the dish and pour in enough napoli sauce to reach almost to the tops of the loaded shells. It's easier to put the sauce in first once you know the plimsoll line of the shells. I baked the foil-topped dish (the lid broke years ago) for an hour on 180, but oven times vary.

Serves three.


The Blogger in the Office Next Door.

I once worked in an advertising agency in a soaring city building that also housed several hundred of the types of corporate accountants and lawyers that you never see, you just know they are there. They must all arrive at 6 a.m. and leave after eight in the evening, because they only people I ever saw in the lift were couriers, lunch delivery people and the lolly lady.

The building had a marble lobby that you entered through one of those rotating doors that always seem to be about to slice you in half, and the agency was on the 27th floor, away from the grime and the noise and the lunchtime joggers.

I had been working there for a few years as a kind of freelance to clean up the on-staff writers' bad writing and do the jobs they didn't want to tackle. Annual report for a national office supplies company? 64-page brochure promoting a self-managed super fund? Give it to the freelancer, they said. Lazy pricks. On the other hand, I spent long periods waiting around for the next job to come in. During the quieter moments, I wrote a blog entitled The Advertising Agency documenting some of the industry's more, er, 'interesting' idiosyncrasies. (No longer online - I'm turning it into a book.) My 'links' list included several weblogs about the industry from all parts of the world including London, New York, Chicago, Rio, Mumbai and Nairobi. One of them was a savagely cynical take on the industry written under the pseudonym of Wrightoff, a pun that had become a metaphor for the writer's career. We regularly commented on each other's posts and we were equally cynical. I didn't know which city Wrightoff was in. Being semi-intelligent human beings, we were usually careful to not divulge the identities of selves or agencies.

One day, I had finished writing a live-read commercial for a hardware store's Christmas opening hours, or a brochure for a bank's fixed-rate loan, or a press ad for a superannuation company run by ex-unionists who had set up an opt-out life insurance scheme to further fleece unwary members – whatever - and I had just checked in at my blog to see if anyone had commented that day.

Just then, the account executive who worked in the next cubicle came into my office, saw my blog masthead on the screen and said, "Oh - The Advertising Agency blog. I read that as well. In fact, its writer has linked to my own blog. Want to see it?" (He had no idea, of course, that The Advertising Agency was my blog. Why would I be reading my own blog?)

He took my mouse and clicked the cursor on a title in my sidebar.

The blog he had clicked on came up on the screen. It was Wrightoff.

"That's your blog?" I asked him, trying not to look shocked.

"Yes," he said, then asked conversationally, "Do you know who writes The Advertising Agency?"

I felt a prickly feeling crawl up my back. Knowing that I had satirised, if not actively offended, 90% of the people in the advertising industry in this city, I had about half a second to decide whether I should reveal my identity. It could be awkward: imagine the conversation at an industry Christmas party if, after a few drinks, someone introduced me by saying, "Did you know that this man writes The Advertising Agency blog?" I could be beaten up by twenty drunk account executives (the last four words being the mother of all oxymorons when it comes to Christmas parties).

"No idea," I said airily.


Falling down the well.

I once had the acquaintance of a group of Uniting Church types who used to get together to do 'Good Works'. (Normally I don't capitalise key words but these people were so upright, they resembled capital letters themselves as they strode into their church hall, once home of the long-gone choir, to discuss their next charitable expedition 'abroad'.)

Mostly they were upper middle class widows from Kew and East Hawthorn who could afford to travel but some were gentlemen, retired woolly academic types or timid pastors who hadn't quite made it as zeal-filled missionaries, but still liked the travel aspect. They all got on together like a house on fire, of course. At their monthly meetings the ladies discussed the agenda fiercely – which third world country should be the next destination - while the men silently made tea in the corner, and with slender pale hands put out not enough stale biscuits on a tray. Hopeless.

I used to drive one of the men to the airport from Camberwell so he could save on taxi fares. The trips were hardly pilgrimages. They stayed in hotels, although they did fly Qantas economy where they'd eat the pre-prepared Neil Perry fare rather than the first class chef and sommelier deal. However, once arrived, the travellers were careful to eat only the correct regional cuisine for the area visited as a kind of gastronomical correctness. On return to Australia they'd hold dinner parties and put around plates of punugulus as if they were Smiths crisps. "Oh, just one of the things we ate in India," they'd say airily, plonking down giant bowls of pindi chole and Kerala mutton.

At one of these dinner parties, an old dear - we'll call her Mrs Jellyby - sipped her glass of mineral water and told me about the well they had provided in some scummy village in a part of India. They had travelled overnight on two buses and a crowded train from the city into which they had flown. The well was communal, of course. "It takes a village to raise a bucket," explained the old dear gravely, which was either gag of the day or she was demented, or maybe both. The well would allow the women of the village to lower a bucket on a rope and drag up some filthy artesian water with which they could cook chick peas or rinse garments or whatever it was that Indian women did when they weren't burning cow dung in their huts to stop their babies dying of cold, or walking around with pots on their heads. Or was that the African expedition? The stories all ran into one after a while, like the tigers turning to butter in Little Black Sambo.


Time and many monthly meetings passed in the old Uniting Church hall, now a 'refugee centre'. One night, someone raised a motion that they adopt a new way of being kind to poor people. Maybe they had tired of standing around in an Indian field while watching an Indian guy operating a drill in the back of a Hindustan truck. An ingenious new system had been developed, said the member, whereby you made a credit card payment and donated a goat, a duck, a piglet, or an entire farm if you had deep pockets. You could even give a Hindustan truck. Whatever. It would still be cheaper than your airfare to India. This had two key benefits. One, you could attain the moral high ground without leaving your house; and two, you could give the card proclaiming what you had given to a friend in lieu of a Christmas or birthday gift. Or for no reason at all, other than to signal that you were a Charitable Person, in capitals again.


More time passed and it was clear that token gestures would never have the effect of sheer scale, the kind of scale only possible through serious industrial undertaking. India's Adani approached Australia to run a Queensland mine, with resulting infrastructure bringing employment to Australians while providing power for an India for which a million wells, goats or Hindustan trucks are never enough.


Blow me down if I didn't see the old Uniting Church types getting in on the act. Opposing the mine. No power for cowpat-burning Indians! The dementia had clearly advanced.