66 shades of grey

66 shades of grey
66 shades of grey ... this pic of me was shot by Kim, of Kim Thomsen's Photography at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory. Kim just wandered over and asked whether it was OK to get some character shots.


The cross is in front of the church in Karumba and it seems TV antennas have a greater reach for the sky.


I went fishing out of Nhulunbuy on the Gulf of Carpentaria. We anchored in a bay about 10 hours from Nhulunbuy and went ashore. This poor fella had been snared in the locals' overnight net and then had a run-in with the resident 14-foot saltwater croc - named Nike by the local indigenous fellas - and came off second best.

the rock

the rock

oodnadatta track

oodnadatta track
What a tough place to live ... this is out on the Oodnadatta Track


My photo
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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Spring has sprung ...

I reckon I’d be considered a seasoned campaigner rather than a seasonal campaigner, but that’s not to say I’m dismissive of seasonal change. Anything but, because spring does it for me — in spades.

It did it last weekend — and from memory (it’s the wine that does it — OK, maybe old age is having a say too) I think the weather was decidedly spring — and I made it a perfect example of things good and things easy. I hit the market to buy some goodies and have a “welcome-to-spring” feed.

After plenty of toing and froing, organic fettuccine was the order of the day (OK, it was the night by the time I ate it) and the sauce could not be any easier: butter (lots of it), flat-leafed parsley, basil, garlic, a hint of chilli and a splash of olive oil. And no cooking.

I chopped the lot into a pretty coarse mixture, boiled the pasta and, voila, eight minutes later I was eating a healthy meal that tasted of spring. The butter gave it a richness, the other stuff (each ingredient spent time on centre stage) a wonderful seasonal freshness that was rounded off with an earthy, wholesome feel-good, taste-good smugness on my part. Spring, what a wonderful bastard you are.

The wine to go with it? Well, I broke my own rule by opting for a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (from Marlborough). It’s normally verboten on my to-drink list. It’s the almost gum hurting, make you pucker, strip the coating off your mouth, Christ there’s just too much fruit happening, kind of thing that has given sav blanc the No.1 spot on my banned list.

The New Zealand Wine website says Kiwi sauvignon blanc is famed for its pungently aromatic green capsicum (bell pepper), gooseberry and lush passionfruit characters. Styles can vary from this traditional style to those showing fresh-cut grass, tomato stalks, melons and lime. The Marlborough region represents 80% of all plantings. North Island styles tend to show soft, ripe, more tropical characters, whereas the more southerly styles show crisper, lighter more vibrant styles. I usually prefer my description.

Anyway, I had a bottle of 2010 Te Whare Ra (TWR) Sauvignon Blanc (priced somewhere in the early 20s) and, for me, it broke down some prejudices. Sure, it was like smelling everything in a fruit shop (aren’t all sav blancs?), with loads of grassy character and passionfruit by the basketful, but it wasn’t to the detriment of the wine, or the drinker. Although by the end of the bottle, I was pretty mellow (OK, it’s just 13.5% alcohol, but it had been a big, big weekend).

In the mouth it was as clean as all get out; soft, well-balanced, crisp and the fruit lingered on and on. It was spring in a glass and the perfect foil for the pasta.

To round off a memorable, really easy and healthy meal, I’d somehow managed to bake two lemon tarts (one to take to the office and share the next afternoon). The recipe is at the bottom of my blog.

A decent-sized wedge of tart with some King Island pure cream (thicker than the accent of a pissed Scottish soccer fan) and I knew I’d be duty bound to do some extra walking the next day. Done. And there was some tart left for the next night.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This little pig ...

Things porcine have played a big part in the past week, not the least being how many times John Elliott last weekend said “pig’s arse” after being told that West Coast was the better team on the night. I smiled (all right, I laughed) every time I thought about it … well, Carlton’s year is done and dusted. Enough said.

Pork was also mentioned in dispatches from my son, Liam, in Vanuatu. He now has a pet pig -- affectionately known as Jeffrey -- to go with the two dogs, Stu and Angus, (Why do you ask, Two Dogs …?), the cat (called Cat) and the no-name python (which he caught in the backyard).

Pork was also on the menu at home. I had a hankering to make a terrine and, after touring the food arcade at the market to see what looked good, I opted for some coarsely minced pork fillet, another fillet cut into about five centimetre chunks, and a chicken fillet.

I (mostly) used a recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, which includes spices, pistachios and cognac. Too easy with a couple of small changes … prosciutto (rather than hard back fat) and the said chicken fillet. The full recipe is at the bottom section of the page.

After marinading the mixture overnight, I cooked it — in a terrine dish covered in foil and in a baking tray with water coming halfway up the dish, cooled it and then weighted it down (with some cans of tomatoes and a very heavy pestle) in the fridge overnight.

It became the mainstay of a bloody good lunch in the sun on Sunday (did I mention that it was the day after Carlton copped it up the freckle?) and there was plenty left.

A couple of slices of terrine, some fetta-stuffed olives, some cornichons, some coriander and chilli pesto, a small(ish) piece of brie, some toasted garlic-and-shallot sourdough and a terrific salad of rocket, nashi pear and some curls (use a vegetable peeler) of parmigiano reggiano, and topped with some lemon-infused olive oil.

It made a beautiful day even better.

That task was further enhanced with some ever-reliable Chateau Tahbilk Shiraz.

I have many great memories of visiting the winery over the years and of its wines, which tend to make it into my place every couple of weeks or so. It’s one of the oldest family-run vineyards in Australia and the Purbrick family’s love for all things grape shows through in the bottle.

The 2008 shiraz is a good example. In the glass, it’s really dark (think the mood of Carlton supporters) and on the nose (no, that’s not a John Elliott joke), it’s chockers with berry smells, pepper, (the label suggests that there is some liquorice there, but I couldn’t find it) and lots of chocolate. In the mouth, it’s spicy, has a nice oakiness, easy tannins and it hangs about.

It’s a healthy 14.5 alcohol, has a screwtop and will set you back $21 or thereabouts.

The winemaker's note says: the 2008 shiraz is everything you would be looking for in an Estate release from a very good year for reds.

It’s pretty hard to argue with that. It went perfectly with the food and helped continue the pork theme … i.e. I was as happy as a pig in … OK, you get the drift.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I remember a while ago when there was there was a heap of crap going on about the Australia Card and privacy.
To quote Wikipedia, as dangerous as that can be given its oft-inaccurate summations:
The Australia Card was a controversial proposal for a national identification card for Australian citizens and resident foreigners. The proposal was made in 1985, and abandoned in 1987.
The Australia Card proposal was, and is still, the subject of strong views. The proposal was either an egregious intrusion into individuals' privacy, giving bureaucrats enormous power; or it was an efficient and evolutionary step for a technological age, combating fraud. And its defeat was either a triumph of citizens acting to protect their rights; or irrelevant in the end due to the expansion of other identification systems and data matching.
So, what’s the deal with everyone wearing ID cards these days?
I walk by James Packer’s money box every morning on the way to the office and, surprise, surprise, almost everyone has a cord hanging around their neck, attached to which is an ID card.
Personally, I don’t give a rodent’s rectum about who knows what … but everyone seems to be wearing them, telling the world who they are and where they work. Go figure.


What a great weekend. I spent the most part of Saturday weeding, emptying terracotta pots of soil that had seen a better days and generally tidying the area that I laughingly call my backyard. Yeah, it’s a small area, but still.
I managed to get all the crap onto the back of the ute and the following morning deposited it at the local tip.
There’s something inherently good (read blokey) about heading to the tip to make a deposit, especially in a ute.
The rubbish even included the barbecue, something I hadn’t used for about 18 months … after the people who were house-sitting my place decided that, despite a non-stick surface, they used something like a circular saw to clean the hotplate. Some people just don’t acknowledge their grey matter.
Anyway, it has given me an excuse to buy something a bit more practical.
Maybe it’s a trip to Bunnings at the weekend.
The garden, however, has mint, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, lemon thyme, common thyme, basil, basil mint, sage, rosemary, chillis, capsicums, chard, spinach, lots of lettuce varieties, a native mountain pepper tree (the leaves are sensational), chocolate mint, perennial basil, dill, a lemon myrtle tree and marjoram. The mountain pepper tree and the lemon myrtle are both available at my brother’s native plant nursery (he runs bush tucker stuff). Check it out at here. He has the best garden I have seen, bar none.
It’s great to have some stuff in the garden again … I can’t wait to start using the proceeds.


News of late from my son, Liam, in Vanuatu. He now has a pet pig -- affectionately known as Jeffrey -- to go with the two dogs, Stu and Angus, (Why do you ask, Two Dogs …?), the cat (called Cat) and the no-name python (which he caught that in the backyard).
Jeffrey lives in the bathroom at the moment … it’s all about training (read house training).
Last week Liam Carried him to the backyard for a bath and Jeffrey, none too pleased, put the bite on him literally. He almost took the end off Liam’s finger. Thank God for sobriety (whatever that is) and quick actions.


I haven’t done a lot lately, other than running what has become a regular column in Crikey … food, wine and general bonhomie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
At least it has got me, in earnest, into the kitchen to get into it.
At the weekend, I managed to get to my favourite wine bar — Lina’s in Albert Park — to savour some opera and a glass or seven of something palatable … to whit, the house white (by a couple) and the more than enough tempranillo to sustain me until I got home and opened a bottle of French red.
That was made easier, courtesy of Raf’s (he’s the Lina’s chef) chicken balls with tomato salsa and a balsamic reduction.
And the singing. Ben Logan (OK, he’s a good mate who manages the bar and also happens to be a tenor who does stuff with Opera Australia) has an amazing voice. The highs are high the … let’s just say that he’s a gun. He’s on Twitter at @Loganmusicevent. He organises some amazing stuff. Private concerts, whatever. He’s worth the price of admission.

Friday, September 16, 2011

California dreamin' with a chardonnay

Another of the weekly Crikey posts.

My first taste of wine was some homemade grappa (OK, it was just a sip or two and my old man wasn't happy about it … "bloody wogs" or some such insult), but it was my first step towards the-then unheard of multiculturalism. I had it with some spag bol (also a first), cooked by Mrs DiMarco during dinner with her newly arrived Italian family across the road. It was circa 1958, a time when migrants were somewhat ungraciously referred to as, among other derogatory tags, "New Australians". Little did we know at the time what a wine and culinary debt we would owe them.

For my first real taste of wine (OK, a drink), it took me quite a few more years. It was a Metropolitan Hotel house red, bought for me as a 17-year-old copy boy, by the late, great Truth reporter Jack "Ace" Ayling. I struggled to get the first one down (rough as guts still readily springs to mind), although the second and third glasses were easier. And they have been getting easier ever since.

It was the '60s and it was all California Dreamin' and California Girls. Well, it was musically at least, thanks to the The Mama's and the Papa's and Beach Boys although I was into Elvis then and still am. I’ve done a bit of California dreamin' and the occasional Californian g… (OK some things are better left unsaid) during my four trips there over the years.

Right now though, Californian dreamin' has become a reality, courtesy of some Dry Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008 out of Sonoma.

What a good wine. It is aged in French oak for nine months, weighs in at 13.5% alcohol and has a (recommended) ageing potential of 3-5 years.

That said, it is fruity (I would have said fruit salad rather than specific fruits) and apparently toasted almonds (buggered if I could get that to happen), nor could I get the hazelnuts (what the hell do they smell like?) after a while in the glass. No matter, it tastes good. The acid is well balanced, as is the oak, which isn't too over the top. In the mouth it’s a smooth, mealy sensation that lasts. Oh, and it has a buttery finish, something I love in chardonnay.

I grabbed mine at my local Vintage Cellars for about $29. Not a cheapie, but worth the price of admission. I married it with a home-cooked cassoulet -- find the recipe at the bottom my blog -- courtesy of an early (for me) trip to the South Melbourne Market. I took the recipe from Leon: Ingredients and Recipes, by Allegra McEvedy, very kindly on loan from my friend, and fellow cassoulet lover, Sue.

I added chorizo to it, but other than that I almost followed it to recipe, although I added carrot and used chicken breast and thigh meat (half and half). Oh, and on the side I had some mafaldine pasta tossed in lots of butter, a couple of cloves of finely chopped raw garlic (it softened with the residual heat but still did its thing) and a handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

I left the cassoulet for two days in the fridge after cooking and the flavours grew an extra leg (I know that because I tasted it a thousand times along the way). And together with the wine, there was no need to repeat the marriage vows … this pair made sweet love together for the duration. Very Californian, eh?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What a difference a duck makes ...

I recently got an email from a mate — he’s a bit (read a lot) of a wine fancier and a slightly less-recent vintage than me (hard to believe, I know) — announcing a breakthrough from California. It’s a wine, the email said, designed for seniors who have, well, a constant need to decant (into the dunny) some of the night’s tipple.

These vintners in the Napa Valley, who primarily produce pinot blanc, pinot noir and pinot grigio, have developed a hybrid grape that acts as an anti-diuretic. Gotta say, I was quite excited reading the email until I saw that the new wine is called pinot more.

Meanwhile, back in the sensible world, my recent experiences with food and wine have been anything but sensible, that is if you listen to wowsers, dieticians, doctors, milk bar owners, people with small ears and those who wake daily to a magenta-coloured sky.

Lunch on Friday last at Golden Fields in St Kilda, with my good friend wine writer Jane Faulkner, was the starting point. We made our way through lobster rolls (delivered to our table by chef and owner Andrew McConnell), soft-shell crabs, Moreton Bay bugs with cabbage, twice-cooked duck (the highlight), a vegetable dish and some steamed barramundi with broad beans, wilted leeks and miso butter. It couldn’t get any better, could it? Well, yeah, it could. It did.

The wines were to die for: Wittmann Morstein Riesling 2009, Prager Gruner Veltliner 2009, Gaba do Xil Mencia 2008, Bindi Pyrette Shiraz 2010 and then some. My notebook matched my mind … not the clearest it has ever been. Suffice to say, lunch was great.

At the risk of sounding like a pig, later in the day I also has a couple of glasses of John Duvall Wines Eligo 2008 Shiraz (about $105 a bottle and, yes, it was a gift, so not a bank breaker) and I was like a pig in … OK, you get the drift.

Sleep came easily that night and on into Saturday, where the plan was to have a steak dinner at Mediterraneo, a local restaurant. We eased into the night with a fabulous Donnhoff Riesling 2010 and then hit the restaurant for a plate of griddled calamari and some Coombe Farm Chardonnay, which also sustained us through an excellent piece of wagyu beef, that, if it had been much bigger, we could have milked. The body finally conceded: enough already.

The only way to ease out of what was an excessive weekend was to do a deli run to the market.

To whit: a plate of bits and pieces (a great and cheap way to eat), including char-grilled, pickled artichoke hearts, fat olives stuffed with parmesan and then crumbed and fried, coriander and chilli pesto, smoked ocean trout with fresh dill and lemon-infused olive oil, a small piece of runny brie, some cornichons, salami and some crusty bread and crackers, all washed down with some Scotchmans Hill Chardonnay from the Bellarine Peninsula.

With the chard I got the melon and (other) fruity nose stuff although I still can’t get a handle on mealy notes, whatever that means (OK, I’m learning and although I graduated with honours at the “if it tastes good, drink it” wine school, I am booked in for a proper wine course with my friend, Jane). As is my wont, I reckon it also tasted buttery and oaky with some acid to balance it.

It went well with nearly everything on the plate and, priced somewhere in the mid-20 buck range, is a drink that I’d also be happy to drink with anything (or nothing really), because it’s a good drink.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best wine of the weekend, but it was a more-than-pleasant way to ease out of it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

... But it's my time and money

Just what is it with tech companies? Courtesy of my tech head son, Joel (he likes the tag by the way ... cos he is one and bloody good at it), I have reliable, free anti-virus software on my laptop. I didn't bother to renew my account with the previous supplier ... no point really.
So it was with some surprise that I received an email from Symantec advising me that my subscription had been updated and the necessary debited from my bank account. Now it's incumbent on me to farnarkle around and convince these bastards that a refund is in order ... something, no doubt, that will take time ... MY TIME.
Is it any wonder that I still operater a cheque book? At least I know when and where my money is going.

A bit more food and drink

I’ve done a couple of wine things for Crikey of late …


When someone first mentions red, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe Julia Gillard, Red Skelton, Red Buttons (that’s a bit too Rip Torn for my liking), reds under the bed or even Red Adair (he was a Texan who fought oil-well fires and fixed blowouts and, for theatrical types, was absolutely nothing to do with Ginger Rogers. I don’t even know if Red could dance).

Mention red again and thoughts turn to the product of the grape. Shiraz, cab-sav, merlot, chianti, grenache, zinfandel, sangiovese, et al. But there aren’t too many first thoughts of tempranillo, originally a grape variety from Spain that is now going gangbusters in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

Which brings me to a chat last weekend with the manager of my local Swords outlet, something I often do. Swords made its name selling resealable and recyclable bottles usually filled with a more-than-decent drop. After I had bought some pinot gris to have with some seafood pasta (it went very nicely, thank you) the manager suggested I try a new tempranillo he’d just got in … and I’m glad I did.

It’s labelled (in butt-ugly type) Siento Tempranillo 2008 from the Barossa and weighs in at a healthy 14.5% alcohol.

If you believe the notes on the back of the bottle, it smells of plum (yeah I got that) and blueberry blossom (excuse me, but I don’t know anyone who knows what the hell that smells like, and anyway, I reckon there was a hint of leather there early on). In the mouth it tastes of blueberry and vanilla (yep to both) and it is a smooth, medium-bodied drink. And it claims that the tannins are velvety (a definite yep — think cats and velvet. Yep, it’s that smooth).

In a shock twist, I drank just half a bottle and buttered up the next night for the rest. And it was definitely better for the break. If you haven’t yet tried tempranillo, do it. At $17.95 a bottle (although Swords has a two for $30 deal on it), it drinks a treat.

The seafood pasta was a chance to try a new Guy Grossi offering: squid ink linguini (it was a gift from a friend who also weighed in with some of Grossi’s olives that are yet to be tried).

The seafood was squid rings, scallops and prawns, tossed quickly in some finely diced sautéed onion softened in olive oil (flavoured with fresh oregano, lots of garlic and a couple of bay leaves), cherry tomato halves and a decent slurp of white wine (it was a fruity chardy). The black pasta cooked in about two minutes (which threw things out a bit) but the end result was worth it. A big handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and a quick squeeze of lemon juice and it was a done deal. Life’s good.

Red Adair was a focused man who once said: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” That’s a bit like wine. It’s caveat emptor when it comes to drinking cheap wine (three-day growth notwithstanding) — buy it at your peril and hope you get lucky.


This week I got up close and personal with a cleanskin … a 2008 Geelong chardonnay from down Bannockburn way (not too far from the city of the Cats).

It is, I’m reliably told, made by award-winning winemaker Scott Ireland at Provenance Wines, who proves that, at about 15 bucks a bottle, he really knows his chardonnay (and probably his pinot gris, shiraz and pinot noir, which are also housed in the Provenance stable). This one is great value for money.

Yeah, a cleanskin … a tidy epidermis if you will.

I couldn’t help but lurch into the Seinfeld territory of my consciousness at the thought of that — it was the puffy shirt episode in which George Costanza embarked on an ill-fated hand-modelling career and had this exchange with his parents, Frank and Estelle:

“All right! Please, please! I cannot have this constant bickering … Stress is very damaging to the epidermis! Now, I have an important photo session in the morning — my hands have got to be in tip-top shape, so please — keep the television down, and the conversation to a minimum.”

Well, stress is the last thing that comes to mind with this cleanskin — quite the contrary — although bickering over the last glass may come into play. The colour is a relaxing pale gold (not too deep, mind) and on the nose I snorted some apple peel (no, fair dinkum, it was there for a while), a bit of peach (or thereabouts … maybe it was nectarine … I’m not a big fruit eater so what would I know?) and plenty of melons (as a drooling Homer Simpson would say, “mmm, melons”). And although I’m not wont to use this expression when I am talking wine, the mouthfeel was, well, another highlight; hints of vanilla, a little bit of acidity and then a backed-off buttery flavour. I hope that doesn’t sound too over the top. If it does, tough, that’s my call.

The bottom line is, it’s a bloody good-tasting wine … and after all, isn’t that why we drink the stuff?

But this cleanskin kicked another goal (from well outside the 50-metre arc). I’ve been having a thing of late with smoked ocean trout, which is less oily than smoked salmon and has a better texture, and it was the food match for the chardonnay on the night.

To whit: a couple of slabs of really good, toasted sourdough bread (with some big seeds), spread (OK liberally crumbled) with plenty of Meredith goat’s fetta (from a jar with herbs and some garlic in the oil), a handful of rocket leaves (a bloke’s gotta have his greens), a few slabs of the said ocean trout (10 bucks will get you a quarter of a kilo at the South Melbourne Market), some lemon-infused olive oil and a big handful of fresh dill and it was done and dusted with a glass or three of the cleanskin.

I had seven courses with matching wines at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze the weekend before last (I did my bit to save it from liquidation, but apparently, after a turnover of more than $14 million and 315,000 customersfor the year, I failed miserably) and, frankly, the trout and this chardonnay were as good a match as anything I had courtesy of he of the lesser vocabulary (that means he’s a potty mouth and swears a bit). OK, the wines at Maze, with respect to Scott Ireland, were better than the chardonnay (so they should be at those prices) — but I’m talking food and wine matches here, so bugger off if it’s criticism you’ve got on your mind. Seriously, the ocean trout and the chardonnay were like a well-adjusted marriage. OK, that’s a big call, but you get the drift.

I bought the Geelong chardonnay from Vintage Cellars. I dunno if it’s in huge supply, but give it a try … you won’t regret it. Fifteen bucks is, after all, not the end of the world.

As George Costanza once said: “You’re telling me wine is better than Pepsi. No way wine is better than Pepsi.”

Sorry George, but this cleanskin (tidy epidermis if you will) is, unlike your short-lived hand-modelling career, a winner hands down.