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.

cross

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

Shark

Shark
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
Uluru

oodnadatta track

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

ME IN A NUTSHELL

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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The best dough I've spent in a while

I cooked a tart for dinner on Saturday … and it was a cracker.
It was about 20 minutes (tops) from start to eat.
I used puff pastry topped with pesto (coriander with a hint of chilli), anchovies, olives, capers, basil and bocconcini. And the best thing about it was the anchovies. I’ve always liked them and usually keep a jar of them in the pantry, but this time I was caught short.
In the deli section of the market, I spied some white Spanish anchovies and despite the 90-odd bucks a kilo price tag, I grabbed a dozen. They were whole, so that meant two dozen fillets.
Best money I’ve spent it a long time. Only about a dozen or so fillets made it onto the tart. I ate the rest as I prepared the tart. My god they were good.
The tart (the recipe, from Delicious magazine, is below) wasn’t half bad either, washed down with some chenin blanc from Swords. (See a post or two back. I reckon it’s gonna be my preferred summer drink … OK, whatever the weather’s like.)

HARD TO WATCH

I watched the Four Nations rugby league game on Saturday night. Good game, good result as the Aussies stuck it up the Kiwis.
But I reckon it has to be the worst TV coverage I’ve ever seen. The camera got up close and personal at the play-the-balls, then panned back to give a broad view of the action. It was almost like watching it from another suburb. No close shots of hit-ups, tackles and the like.
Hope the Poms lift their game (the TV blokes, not the England team) for the rest of the tournament.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The wonder of science


I got this from an old mate, Des, at Castlemaine. It's "In Vino Fertilization" and a New Yorker cover cartoon by Drew Dernavich. It struck a chord with me. By the way, you can buy it in three sizes from the New Yorker website.

THANKS FOR THE PLUG, NICK

And thanks to Nick Green, aka ‘Teddy Hernandez’ (his stage name with geek rock band Heartbreak Club), who gave my blog a plug. Nick, by the way, runs a website called Journal of Sparkling Shiraz.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't suffer from pinot envy

My wine writer mate Ben Thomas (@senorthomas on Twitter) has just spent some time in New Zealand doing the pinot run and and while he was there he did a terrific interview for next week's The Weekly Review. Ben got up close and personal with pinot fancier Sam Neill (he has three wineyards and is really hands-on). It's well worth a read.
Ben also had some good things to say about the wines. He also sent a link to a sale of Kiwi pinots.
Have a look. You just never know.

CHEESE TO THE FORE

A few years ago, I did a Donna Hay cooking class somewhere down on the Mornington Peninsula. I wasn’t that keen on her then, but I’ve mellowed a bit (maybe it’s an age thing … OK, it’s an age thing).

The biggest things to come out of that day were learning to soak olives in vodka, and the subsequent hangover after an amazing lunch at the T’Gallant winery. The olives taste great and the vodka afterwards is sensational. I’ve since done olive shooters as a starter for a dinner party (soak ’em for a couple of hours at least) and they’re always a hit, in more ways than one.

I saw Hay on the telly the other night, preparing three-cheese pasta, and I thought I’d have a crack at something similar. I’m glad I did.

I used L’Abruzzese organic durum wheat fettuccine, which, at about seven bucks, is not cheap, but it’s worth the price of admission. And it cooks in about six minutes.

The sauce took about the same time. Too easy. A big chunk of butter melted gently in a pot, a handful of cubed Jarlsberg and a handful of fresh ricotta, and about a quarter of a cup of freshly grated parmesan, all stirred gently until it became a creamy glug. Then I stirred in a handful of finely chopped fresh tarragon and threw in a big chunk of blue Castello (which may not have been the blue cheese of choice, but it’s what I had in the fridge).

I stirred the sauce (OK, mine is four cheeses) through the pasta, threw some finely chopped fresh basil on top along with more grated parmesan and it was the end of the penny section. Bloody good ride it was, too. It was salty, sweet, savoury and very, very moorish. I’m planning to try it again, the next time with a scoop of crème fraiche just to make it a little runnier.

I washed it down with a glass or two (all right, a bottle) of Amherst Pyrenees Dunn’s Paddock Shiraz 2009, which is somewhere in the mid-20 buck range. It’s a modest 13.6% alcohol and has a screwtop. Good drink it is, a deep colour with berry fruit (your call) and a bit of chocolate on the nose and nice oak and no-over-the-top tannins. It lasts in the mouth. In the bottle as well if you, unlike me, have the ability to put it down for a few years.

But it wasn’t the best wine I’ve had this past week, and I’ve had a few: 2004 Oomoo sparkling shiraz (see last week), Wedgetail Estate 2009 chardonnay (very good), a Yarra Valley cleanskin chardonnay (a beauty) and Chateau de Sours Rose from Bordeaux (a bloody cracker) among them. Nah, the best wine I’ve had this week is going to be a regular inhabitant of my fridge over summer. It’s a 2011 Margaret River chenin blanc from Swords Wines and it’s summer in a bottle at just 11.8% alcohol.

On the nose, it’s fruity, with buckets of lemon/lime things and melon, although I’m convinced that there is passionfruit and fresh basil. In the mouth again there’s citrus and melon and it lingers longer than a St Kilda supporter waiting for a flag. It’s a touch sweet (the wine, definitely not the Saints fan, and a very good thing in this case) with fresh, clean acidity. I love it.

I’ve gotta fess up that the first bottle I tried was a freebie from Dave, the manager of Swords at the South Melbourne Market, who suggested I should review it. I’ve bought it three times since.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The bird that made my life a misery for two years

Adrenalin (noun): a chemical produced by your body when you are afraid, angry, or excited, which makes your heart beat faster.
Affirmative to that … it’s now spring and it was a time that in the past has made me, in the case of what I’m about to explain, mostly afraid and angry about something that weighed less than the handful of scallops that I cooked recently.
Now given that I was then a sizeable citizen and not supposed to be afraid of piss-ant things … read 192 centimetres and somewhere between 94-104 kilograms (although I’m a trim 87 kilograms now) … what was it that got my adrenal glands working overtime?
It was an Indian myna and it made parts of my life a misery for two years ... and it became known as the great war of Albert Park.
The declaration of conflict was set in stone when the myna and its partner decided that the eaves under my front verandah were the ideal place to do their AV Jennings thing and raise a family … to whit, a nest.
Once the bird version of the suburban three-bedroom brick veneer (with pergola) was established, the aggressor decided that whenever I left the house I was a Hitler to its Poland. Every time I walked out the front door, it would be sitting on the fence post, staring a mad stare at me (think Julie Bishop) and screaming like a cross between Jimmy Barnes and Bon Scott, but always in tune. It never bothered anyone else. Just me.
Then the attacks got really personal.
My girlfriend and I had just returned from the local plant nursery. I was laden with punnets of seedlings and a bag a potting mix. We were walking to the front gate when the screaming myna came straight at me like Casey Stoner dropping it down a cog and trying to overtake. I raised an arm to frighten it and all I succeeded in doing was to provide a target.
First blood to the myna. The feathered Rambo left a beak hole (and yep it hurt, heaps) in the top of my right arm. There was blood running down my arm.
The attacks became more concentrated. Every time I walked out of the house, the screaming myna would swoop at me, each time getting up close and real personal, while on my part, frantic arm waving and the occasional scream of my own were the only things to save me from again bleeding on the street.
It got to a point where I was frightened. I mean, I went to the pub occasionally at night and this bastard was hard to see in the dark, although I could hear it, usually from about 20 metres away.
After a couple of really close calls, I took drastic action.
The neighbours thought it was a great joke, watching me, a grown man by this time armed with an ice-hockey stick, on the street doing my best Wayne Gretzky impersonation and trying to belt the bird into the back of an imaginary net. No score, apparently I was swinging the way I’d imagine Boy George would swing a hockey stick. I missed every time.
A walk down the street to the local 7Eleven became a nightmare … the myna started to follow me for a 100 or so metres and it would swoop multiple times, screaming as it went. Again, neighbours laughed.
What to do? Like the real bloke I am, I took a break interstate. A mate and I were heading to Adelaide for the cricket and he was picking me up in a cab. I’d warned him about my feathered foe and as I put my bag into the boot of the cab, I stood up and was attacked. The myna hit my hair. Yeah, it was that close. Maybe it would be an eye the next time. My mate’s flabber was gasted.
I was away for five days. When I got home, the cab pulled up a few houses down from mine and I was ready. I was wearing a disguise … dark glasses and a broad-brimmed hat. I thought I was home scot free. Well no.
As soon as I stood up after getting out of the cab, my mongrel, free-loading border came at me – I reckon it was screaming the chorus of Dirty Deeds done Dirt Cheap — and collected the brim of my hat.
Yeah, the driver and my mate thought it was a great joke. It wasn’t.
It really came to a head (not mine, although not for a lack of trying on the myna’s part) when I walked to the pub to get a couple of takeaway beers and a bottle of wine.
The myna swooped me six or so times until I got to the lane. It had never followed me down there before, but this time, the bird’s bravado kicked in. It followed me for about 50 metres down the lane, having a screaming crack at me every 20 or so metres. Then it was gone, probably for an afternoon tea of worm snacks or other shit prepared by the missus back at my place. God knows.
Then came my one moment of triumph in the great war of Albert Park.
There I was, carrying my alcoholic booty, walking up the street towards my house, about 50 or so metres away. There was a hand-holding couple walking towards me.
Enter the maniacal myna.
There it was, doing more clicks than is reasonable for a small bird, barrelling straight at me at about chest height … and doing its best Barnsey impersonation.
I braced myself … it’s either it or me, I thought.
Closer, closer it came and, whack, I punched it (it would have decked Rocky) right out of the air and over a parked car and onto the road. My timing was perfect. The hand holders stopped dead in their tracks, mouths agape, and stared in disbelief.
I walked onto the road and there was the myna, standing, stunned, and no doubt thinking something along the lines of “Jesus, what the hell was that?”
I’ve won, I thought, it can’t come back from this.
Well, not for a couple of days anyway … and then it started all over again.
And then spring was gone, so too the myna.
At least until the next year and it started all over again.
There was just one thing to do. I later moved house. Enough adrenalin rushes.
My new house was about a kilometre away and I was welcomed by a friendly family of magpies.
But that’s another story.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sharing the load

Life in Vanuatu has its ups and downs …
I got an email from my son, Liam:
“What you don’t want is … for the 20-tonne crane to fall on its side, under load, out the front of the Australian High Commissioner’s house, destroying gardens and retaining walls, while your boss is on his honeymoon. Yep, just another day in paradise.”
He rang just after that had happened to offer another insight into the way they do things over there.
Seems that a few hundred Kiwis (there’s always a lot of them no matter where you go) got into the Rugby World Cup spirit. Now given that there’s a strong French presence there (it used to belong to France … and the French women there are, well you get the picture), what better way to show your affection for the land of the long night crowd.
The Kiwis blocked the road outside the French Embassy and the 300 or so strong crowd did the haka en masse and apparently created quite a rumble.

CALLERS ON THE LINE

So, are tram drivers bound by the same laws as car drivers?
I was waiting for the No.96 the other day outside Packer’s money box and the restaurant tram came ambling up to the stop. The driver was busy having a chat on his mobile phone.
Then a tram going the other way had the driver, no doubt calling home base or whatever, chatting away on the installed phone in his cabin.
Just wondering why the rozzers don’t give trammies a hard time the way they give it to car drivers.
And the coppers could do a lot worse that hang around Port Junction on the No.96 line. There’s a stop sign for the trams and, last week was a first in a long time, the driver actually stopped. Be a great revenue raiser, cos normally the drivers just steam right past the stop sign.

BANGERS PAR EXCELLENCE

I reckon I’ve just found my new favourite sausages … pork and fennel.
I had a feed at Lina’s, my favourite bar, the other night … with mash and some greens, all washed down with some excellent Château de Sours Rosé from Bordeaux.
There’s not a lot wrong when the temperature is still in the twenties and you’re eating and drinking in the courtyard.
Good to see, too, that the kitchen has just reinstated the nibbles plate … mainly preserved meats … which is not a bad thing occasionally, although I copped a serve from a friend (a verbal, not a feed). She suggested I was being over-indulgent in the dead beast department, but given that I have red meat about once every two or three weeks, I’m not too fussed.
That may well change if I can ever assemble the barbecue I bought last week.
I’m also looking forward to Lina’s chef, Raf, using the mountain pepper berry leaves I gave him last week. I have a small tree in a pot in the yard. He’s a fan after tasting them for the first time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

An early tilt at the festive season


Christmas has lobbed early at my joint.
At the end of last month, I got a tip from a wine writer mate, Ben Thomas (he’s @senorthomas on Twitter) to buy some Oomoo Sparkling Shiraz, which, according to Ben, was an ideal cellar filler for the festive season.
Yeah, like it’ll last that long at my place.
It was a special online deal (http://skyecellars.ewinerysolutions.com/index.cfm?method=storeproducts.showD
rilldown&productid=ad651533-cccf-05c7-8722-a84757b355fb) and an absolute snip at $108 a case (delivered). You reckon that’s good? Think again. With the case of the 2004, yes 2004, sparkling shiraz came a bottle of Moet Imperial, usually priced at somewhere in the mid-50 buck range. The deal has finished although there is talk that it will be reposted within the next two weeks. Monitor the site, people, if you know what’s good for you.
I’m a bit of a fan when it comes to sparkling shiraz (OK, if it passes the lip test, I’ll like it. The lip test is, by the way, if it’s wet enough to pass through the lips, it’s good) and after popping the cork on the Oomoo, nothing had changed. This fella is of mid-ranged sweetness and is deep red with a full body … not quite a middle-aged spread, but you get the drift.
On the nose, Hardy’s suggests fresh cherry and satsuma plum notes (I got the cherries, no plum though) and mulberry jam, whatever that smells like. I kept getting strawberries and cream, which probably means my olfactory set-up is really an old factory set-up. I did get the chocolate and spice thing although the claimed liquorice was among the missing.
On the palate, it says raspberry fruit with dark cherries, nougat and spice. I’m sticking to the strawberries and cream thing. There’s a pleasant bit of oak and it finishes well. Hardy’s suggests that it would go well with duck liver pate, quail and game meats and Christmas pudding.

My choice probably broke the rules … I opted for a Middle Eastern lamb tart. No matter.

Besides, I’d just had an “I want to bake a tart” epiphany.

And bake I did. It’s a filo tart of spicy lamb mince (I bought lamb chunks and cut it into a one-centimetre dice. It’s a texture, have-a-chew kind of thing) with hummus, fetta and topped with a tomato, onion, parsley, mint, sumac, olive oil and lemon juice salsa. All up it took maybe 45 from start to eat.

I did, however, have the mandatory whinge using the filo. Why is it so difficult to use? I reckon it’d be easier to knit an aircraft carrier, but having said that, my filo turned out OK.

But what a good eat it was, especially washed down with a glass or two (OK, it was a bottle) of the Oomoo.
The full recipe is at the bottom of the blog.
.

PS: the explanatory label on the back of the Oomoo is in Japanese, indicating, I guess, that the company had punted on selling truckloads in the Land of the Rising Sun, something that perhaps didn’t come to fruition. No matter, it’s the taste that matters. And anyway, sometimes after drinking a bottle of something, the label may as well be written in Japanese anyway.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 20-degree rule

Thank God it’s the time of the year to invoke the 20-degree rule.
As soon as the temperature hits the magical 20, out come the blue singlets. I’ve gotta, mind, get the body into some sort of better shape. I’ve managed to rip off about eight or so kilos during my traditional “put on the pounds” winter, which was no mean feat.
It helps to eat well and certainly by cutting out the beer (OK, I have an occasional one or two) it gets easier. But it’s time to start throwing around a few weights and put a bit of shape to whatever is left clinging to my bones. It should be easy, given that I have a home gym and a few free weights. It’s just a matter of finding the motivation, a not-easy task because I’ve been doing (and will continue to) some paid work at nights.
Being a sizeable citizen, however, means bugger all when it comes to things mechanical (OK, it’s not really mechanics) when it comes to putting together a barbecue.
Sounds easy enough, but sweet mother of Jesus, it’s not for me.
I went to Bunnings yesterday to buy a smallish barbie (I have a small courtyard already crowded with pots of this and that) so size matters.
I spent an hour and a half getting it to a stage where it was time to spit the dummy. I packed all the bits (and when I say all, I mean shitloads) into the box and went and sulked with a later on bourbon (OK, two).
I rang Bunnings this morning (God bless ‘em) and the ever-helpful girl told me to bring it back (with the receipt) and someone from the leisure centre would assemble it for me.

WELCOME BACK CHISEL

How good is it to see Cold Chisel back on the road.
I found out yesterday afternoon (post-barbecue) over a beer at Lina’s wine bar that there were still tickets available. Gotta get me one.
The Northern Territory News last week had a yarn the summed up Chisel’s appeal.
The band is playing a Darwin gig for the first time since God’s dog was a pup and to celebrate, a Darwin FM radio station is going to play Chisel 24/7 for the 10 days leading up to the concert.
Have a look at the yarn at http://yfrog.com/z/nvjjilj ... There are a couple of links to tune in.

GOOD WEE

Speaking of Chisel, I was talking to a mate from the Age two Fridays ago and he told me to buy it the next day because there was a Cold Chisel yarn in Good Weekend.
Now I haven’t bought The Age for about six months (I’ve got with the program and I read it daily online) so I surprised my newsagent with a purchase.
I grabbed a coffee and headed home for a read.
What the hell has happened to Good Weekend? It was a paper-thin 32 pages with I think 14 full-page ads and a front cover. That’s 17 pages of reading. Seventeen! There’s more reading in my local suburban giveaway. Perhaps it’s time to rename it Good Wee.

AH, SHUCKS

I’ve gotten back into the habit of having half a dozen freshly shucked oysters every time I head to the South Melbourne Market. How good are they? At a buck each, they’re sensational value. Just a squeeze of lemon juice and lunch doesn’t get any better.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The wine and food were good company


I was meant to have a dinner date on Saturday last, but I blew it — big time. To compensate for my stupidity (OK, by this stage I was in denial and almost at war with myself), I had a squiz at some recipes (Delicious magazine was the source of choice this time) and hit the market, hell bent on creating something memorable to get me over the line.

The yield included some big, fat Canadian scallops, fresh peas, mint, chillis, limes and pancetta. Late in the afternoon I made friends with the half bottle of cleanskin Yarra Valley chardonnay that was, hard to believe though it may be, left from the night before. It’s a cracker — great value at 11 bucks a throw from my local Vintage Cellars. The wine was great (and my only) company during my time in the kitchen — which was bugger all time, but the resultant food was as good as it gets (big call, I know, but it’s my call).

I had the eight big, fat scallops with minted pea and wasabi puree, scattered with crispy bits of pancetta, chilli and a drizzle of olive oil. The full recipe is at the bottom of my blog. I reckon I spent no more than 15 minutes at the stove. If you’re having a dinner party, I can’t imagine a better starter, one that’s certain to impress your guests. And as the only guest on the night, I know it impressed my socks off.

I was almost as equally impressed with an Ashcroft 2009 Chardonnay from Margaret River. It was 31 bucks at my local (although I noticed later that it was $26.99 at Nicks Wine Merchants) but no matter. I was treating myself. Denial does that apparently. What a cracker wine, a great match for the food. The vineyard grows all its own fruit and harvests by hand. It shows when you loosen the screwtop and let it loose in a glass.

It’s got good colour, and has plenty of peachy, citrus things happening on the nose. And yes, there was even some cashew stuff going on (that was the easy part because I’d eaten some cashews during the afternoon). In the mouth it was crisp, with a big, fruity flavour (it’s a robust 14.5% alcohol) that was well and truly worth the price of admission.

I may have been lousy company, but the company I kept on the night was right up there.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pinks bits on a plate

Dinner has taken a few of strange turns lately … and not necessarily for the better, especially the fact that I’m not having dinner with my favourite person in the world. But that’s another story and not for this place.
I’ve had a house guest the past couple of weeks … a mate who lives down the coast who has had some work in the city. A commute is out of the question.
Given that I’ve also been working my arse off of late, we decided to grab a quick bite at a local pizzeria called Basilico … one website describes it as “Basilico offers the epitome of chic, modern Italian dining …”
Be that as it may.
I had a hankering for a chicken parma … I’d had it there a couple of times … it’s close to home, so an easy walk after a couple of glasses of something to wash down the said parma.
My mate ordered some garlic bread to kick off. Mistake one.
What arrived at the table was a small basket of mainly blackened, sliced baguette. “Bit on the burnt side,” said my mate.
The waiter countered with something like “Oh, is that not satisfactory?”
Well no. “I’ll replace it, shall I?” That would be good, ta.
And so it came to pass.
Then the mains … a pizza for my mate and my parma.
We were busily chowing down when I had a good look at the parma. It was cooked on the bottom and as pink as all get out on the top. It looked like it was dressing the part to go to a Pink concert. Raw.
Sweet mother of Jesus, it’s not that hard, is it?
I called over the waiter and asked whether they were serious in sending this out of the kitchen.
“Shit, that’s not good enough,” he said, “I’ll take it back to the kitchen. Can I bring you another one?”
Ah, no, but thanks anyway. I was done and dusted in terms of food for the night. And done and dusted in terms of ever again giving my hard-earned to Basilico.
Oh, there was no charge for the pink bits.
Then a few nights ago I went with some friends to a restaurant in South Melbourne. It was to be a wind-down after working 50-odd hours for the week.
Great venue, great atmosphere, great wines.
We also had some great things to eat … an antipasto plate to die for, snapper, flathead, fantastic cockles and seafood fettuccine. Yeah, the fettuccine.
The pasta was cooked to within an inch of its life. The fish bits in it were overcooked (I was assured the prawns were great), my serve included a mussel that didn’t open (alarm bells for me) and the scallops were at tough as footy boot stops. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term “stops”, they were little leather things that were nailed onto the soles of the boots. These days, they are studs moulded to the boots.) But you get the picture.
Again, it’s not that hard. If you’re paying good money, it’s not unreasonable to expect good food. No excuses. Who cares if the chef’s dog has just gone into labour or that he or she got a puncture while riding their bike a couple of days before?

A YARRA VALLEY WINNER

If you fancy a value-for-money drink … and don’t we all? … you could do a lot worse than find your way to Vintage Cellars and have a crack at its 2008 Yarra Valley cleanskin chardonnay.
At about 11 bucks a throw, it’s a cracker. There’ll be a case at my house today to ensure that there is always a quaffer on hand.
Talking of cases, I got a note (OK, it was an email, but I’m still a note kind of bloke) from my mate, Ben Thomas, the most excellent wine writer at The Weekly Review.
Ben wrote: “Here's a good option to stock up on some booze for Christmas. You can drink the bonus Moet on NYE.
“Haven't tried the wine but Hardy's rarely puts a foot wrong with the Oomoo range.”

The website says: Oomoo Sparkling Shiraz and Moet SPECIAL SALE. Buy a dozen Oomoo 2004 Sparkling Shiraz for the SPECIAL PRICE of $9 A BOTTLE AND GET A 750mL BOTTLE OF MOET CHANDON FREE!!
A slack delivery man notwithstanding, there should be a case wending its way to me now.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The good oil

This, the latest offering as appeared on Crikey.
Yeah, I know that last week spring was the order of the day. And yeah, I know it has still got a ways to run. But what the hell? Next thing you know, it’ll be summer anyway.

It’s hard to stress enough the importance of spring, of getting some edible stuff into the garden and the subsequent joy of harvesting. A snip here and there not only puts tucker on the plate, but it’s good for the plants because it promotes more growth, hence, more things on plates. This week I managed to use some mixed salad greens, some delicious dill, some basil and some mint. A good start, I reckon.

And getting set up for summer salad season (nice alliteration) has partially been taken care of in my kitchen.

Think oils for starters. Now, I'm big on oils. I already have a bottle of basil-infused olive oil, a great addition to pasta, salads, whatever. I have also prepared a dipping oil -- done with rosemary and the rind from a slab of parmigiano reggiano. I always keep the rind for that reason.

I just take a bottle’s worth of olive oil, a bunch of bruised rosemary (sorry about that) and the said rind, whack it in a pot on the stove and heat it very gently for as long as it takes to infuse the flavours. Then I let it cool overnight (still more flavour), strain it through muslin, put a fresh sprig of rosemary in the bottle and it’s done. It’s an absolute knockout with fresh bread.

Garlic is another winner. I bought a few heads (yeah, yeah, I’m talkin' garlic here), peeled the cloves and did a confit in olive oil. I very gently heated the oil and left it long enough for the cloves of garlic to become just slightly soft. I then took it off the heat and let it cool overnight. I have a constant supply of pungent garlic for pastas. It’s even great just spread on fresh bread with whatever you want. And a never-ending (I top it up as I go) supply of strong garlic oil. (The garlic and the oil are infinitely better than the crap sold in jars in supermarkets.)

On the agenda next is to flavour some oil with lemon, some chilli and whatever takes my fancy at the market or from the backyard production line.

As for some vino, this past week I sampled the joys of Logan 2010 Chardonnay from Orange. It’s kind of pale and kicks in with a fruity, citrus thing (they say there’s other stuff there, but I’ve got no idea what marzipan smells like). At first taste I furrowed my brow, but it relaxed and finished well, again fruity. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

So too the Boat O’Craigo Rob Roy Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, the Ad Hoc Nitty Gritty Pinot Gris 2011 and a special mention to Moppity Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. (Yeah, it has been a big week, especially if you count the bourbon during the grand final on telly.) Like last week’s TWR sav blanc, this Moppity fella is soft (it’s not a full-on assault on the tastebuds), fruity and it’s all too easy to find the bottom of the bottle, but I’d recommend any of the four wines.