ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
HERE, THERE AND WHEREVER
I’m on some sort of streak (no, not the kind I’d brag about to my mates in the pub ... actually I wouldn't do that anyway) at the moment … the weekend coming up (February 12) will be my fourth in a row that I have spent out of town. And what a diverse set of trips they’ve been.
My mate Sean has bought a fantastic dairy farm near Neerrim South and there has always been an open invitation, so another mate, Hanks, and myself set sail for the wilds of Gippsland. Sean was hosting a party for his daughter Zoe’s birthday and what a sensational idea it was. He had organised a local cheesemaker, Carol (reckon she made it clear more than once that she was single), to give Zoe and her classmates from Melbourne a lesson in making their own cheese.
Hanks and I offered to help with the party set-up, but insisted that Sean (or someone, anyone) drive us to the Noojee pub for the duration of the party and that we were picked up later when the kids had headed back to Melbourne. A done deal.
It was easy unpacking Carol’s cheese-making stuff (which included hats with girls’ names embroidered on them, aprons and containers of all sorts and more milk than I’ve seen in a long time), setting up the tables, hanging birthday streamers, while Sean organised a barbie to be on the money by the time the 20 or so girls’ bus got there. Hungry kids? Are there any other kind? Thirsty adults? Yep, Hanks and I made do with a pre-lunch bottle of white while the kids tucked into their chicken wings and bangers ‘n stuff.
It seemed like no time at all (it really wasn’t) that we were at the bottom of the bottle of white and on the way to the Noojee pub as the girls got themselves elbow-deep in cheese.
The boozer at Noojee looks to be a bit of a haven for bike riders (not push bikes), which is always a good sign. It’s like watching out, I reckon, for lots of trucks parked at a roadhouse.
What a great setting it is (I haven’t been to Noojee in a million years), with a huge deck overlooking the beautiful river at the bottom of the block. Apparently the kookaburras come in every now and then and settle on the deck rails for a feed … no chips mind, the pub has special stuff that is good for the birds’ digestive systems.
The chicken parma was the order of the day. I said to the barmaid: “Have you got a wine list?” “No, love, what do you want? Red or white?”
Wet was my first thought. We agreed on a chardie (can’t remember what it said on the label, which is a shame because it was an OK drink … certainly not the worst I’ve ever had by a long stretch).
The barmaid said to the boss: “How much is this to drink in?” “Thirteen bucks.”
That’ll do us, we said, and she plonked the bottle into an ice-bucket. It did us to the tune of four bottles. That was some afternoon’s work … five bottles of vino between the two of us, during which we solved several of the world’s problems, organised the dismissal of the prime minister and probably several other things. I also had a couple of beers with Mick, the publican, over a couple of games of pool (yeah, I played like shit or maybe Mick was just so much better than me. Yeah, that’s probably it.). I asked Mick about the chances of camping on the pub’s land down by the river.
“Just call me and let me know when,” he said. How good is that? Yep, I’m gonna give that pub my custom.
Gotta say that sleep did come easy in my swag back at the farm (fresh air is such a good option … Sean did offer a bed … thanks but no thanks) after so many tipples. Oh, and the parma did the job too.
There’s something really good about having tea and toast for brekkie in a farm house … real tea in a terrific teapot. Yeah.
The plan for the day? Why, the Neerim District Agricultural Show, of course. And how good was it when we (three adults and two kids) got in on a family pass.
There was lots of good stuff … the mandatory ute competition (don't you love the sticker on the ute in the picture at the top), wood chopping, animals, gold prospectors, horse jumping, dog trials, old farm machinery, some new stuff too, water pumps, showbags, a (rather good) country and western band (I can’t believe I wrote that), food stalls selling doughnuts, bacon and egg sandwiches, hamburgers, chips, whatever. Oh, and cups of tea and a lot of people in big hats.
It brought back some good memories, carrying Phoebe (Sean’s youngest) around to give the old man’s back a break. Been a long time since I’ve done that … or for that matter taken a 12-year-old (Zoe) shopping for showbags while her old man chowed down on a sandwich and a coffee. Good fun though. I enjoy hangin’ with kids sometimes because they’re just so uncomplicated, although my niece’s daughter cracked it with me the other day when I told her (in a nice way) to stop digging holes. Them’s the breaks.
After the show it was back to the farm and to download the photos and videos of the weekend for Sean.
I reckon the cheese-making party idea is such a winner for the kids and that Carol could make an absolute career out of doing shows for kids or schools or whatever. They made mozzarella, haloumi and ricotta, which they got to take home. Oh, and the kids also got certificates for their cheese-making deeds. I’ll suss out Sean to get some sort of link (computer link that is) to Carol and post it here or somewhere.
I didn’t get a certificate, but did leave with some fond memories of a great weekend … Sean’s a good bloke and his kids are great fun.
The one thing to do on the way home was to buy a kilo or so of the biggest, plumpest, sweetest cherries from a roadside stall I’d seen on the way up there.
They were sensational. Was talking about them with my friend Sue, who suggested I make some cherry soup. It’s on the agenda for a dinner party I’m having in a couple of weeks, which will also feature good friend Andrew and his guitar. He did his thing at a dinner party a while ago … he’s a fantastic player and singer. I talked to him about it a couple of days ago and he’s ready for it.
The following weekend was a real hottie (first time in a while I’ve had anything to do with a hottie of any sort) and I headed to my friend Julia’s house at Balnarring for a big Saturday lunch. Just love her house and the garden. I hadn’t seen her for a while (too long) or her daughter Lauren, who seems to have grown about a foot and a half (in the old money). Mind you, Julia’s on the plus side of six feet.
Doyley (she’s really Caroline and she imports Italian leather stuff and has a shop on Bay Street, Port Melbourne) and her man Eammon (his is one big unit … a former rugby player) were also there, along with some neighbours (whose names I forget. OK, there was wine involved) who lobbed and were fed. Oh, and there were also kids and dogs roaming the place. They came and ate sometimes … when they were hungry, I guess. Lunch was in the garden. Julia is such a crash-hot cook … I’ve had lots of meals at her place … she’s a gun in the kitchen. If anyone can pull off a roast on a 40-degree day it’s Julia … and she did.
One of the best days I’ve had in a long time, drinking buckets of really good wine, eating super food … a couple of delicious roasted chooks and vegetables of all sorts (including purple carrots) and gravy to die for … pick, pick, picking away on the remnants of lunch until it was time for the summer pudding and clotted cream. Oh yeah.
As the afternoon turned to dark, the debates got stronger the more the empties appeared. Among them were Kelpie Bridge chardonnay, Chateau Tahbilk cabernet-sauvignon, Bress sparkling shiraz (a favourite of mine) … can’t remember the others, just that there were lots. Funny about that. Turned out though that sleep came really easily. Funny about that too.
I’ve had breakfast at Sweethearts, I’ve had breakfast in Paris, in Venice, in Wantirna, yep I’ve had a few here and there, but breakfast at Julia’s was right up there with the best. Crisp bacon, eggs, slow-roasted freshly made fritters (grated zucchini, sweet potato, onion and fresh sweet corn bound with an egg) and sautéed tomatoes and basil picked from Julia’s fantastic vegie garden minutes before we ate. Throw in some tea and three sorts of bread toasted, jams, honey … Jesus, the woman is a gem. It was also time to catch up with her man Foges, who had got back late the night before from Sydney.
There’s just one thing to do after a breakfast like that.
Retail therapy. Julia and I headed out to do some antique browsing and, or course, to buy some wine.
I managed to buy an old shovel for the rack (and what a nice rack it is) on the back of my ute, I also got a cleaver, a fishing reel and bought Julia a garden book (although she doesn’t need help in the department) and an old-style egg beater. She’d been looking for one for a while.
Then we headed to Green Olive at Red Hill to buy some of the Kelpie Bridge chardie that we’d had at lunch the day before. Olive stuff seems to be the company’s main interest but shit, it does a good job on the wine. We each bought a case (at a very reasonable price) and I also got some cold-pressed extra virgin oil infused with wild lime. It’s a gem.
Julia suggested that soon, when Foges is away covering Formula One in Europe that I should come down and stay for a week and that we should do the wineries. It’s a done deal.
I’ve had lunch with her a few times at various restaurants/wineries in that neck of the woods and, if my memory serves me correctly, we both did a cooking class of sorts with Donna Hay at a winery down there years ago. T’Gallant is my favourite in the area … for food (one of the great lunches) and wine. I reckon its pinot gris is wonderful.
So, Ms Merrington, when you get a break from your foodie stuff (yeah, she works in the TV food world) let’s hit the wineries for a week.
The following weekend was the weekend of the big wet. I was on Geelong Road heading out of town when it hit … it was the most severe rain I can remember. Seems everyone (almost) pulled off the road and waited for it to pass. I was in my Landcruiser ute, which handled it all pretty well … OK, I cut the speed to just 30.
I was bound for my brother’s plant nursery at Curlewis (it’s for sale), where my camper trailer is stored. Felt the need to sort through all my camping stuff (and make some room at home in my storage area). A bit of rationalisation, given that I have shitloads (that’s a technical expression) of gear.
Typically, my sister-in-law Alexis and I drank too much wine on the Friday night, although we did power up in the kitchen with some roasted chicken, home-grown spuds in sour cream and freshly picked mint, and a salad with all manner of stuff in it and a mustard-based dressing. Angus (from the ABC TV garden show) and my brother Phil were impressed, no doubt with our culinary performance.
Sorting through all my gear on Saturday did nothing more than give me itchy feet. I also managed to order a bit I need for the Landcruiser, which will mean returning the following weekend.
A Saturday arvo nana nap was the order of the day before the blokes came back from a plant recce somewhere in the wilds of Torquay and then we headed out to dinner at a small place in Drysdale.
I had battered flathead fillets that, when I pressed a knife against them, made the oil seep from the batter. It wasn’t a good look. It tasted OK though. Which is more than can be said for the dessert, which was, I was told, a lemon and lime tart. It was commercially made, had virtually no taste of lemon, and the lime component was (can you believe this?) lime cordial (syrup) displayed in lines on the plate. Enough. I couldn’t finish it.
I so want to get back out on the road. That feeling was just emphasised when a mate rang me the other day from just south of Darwin. I’ve met up with him a few places around Australia. We talked for about 30 minutes. He’s just about to head west of Darwin. That’s the direction of the Kimberley, where I spent just eight days looking around.
I will return, now that I have no ties here. Oh, that’s right, I don’t do ties, I’m a singlet bloke.