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, November 11, 2012

It's gonna be crays, crabs and tuna ...

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again … dealing with Air Vanuatu is as good as it gets. I booked a ticket … yep, I’m outta here on December 20 for Christmas in the tropics … and everything about the airline is how it should be … n.b. Qantas and Virgin. No request is too much trouble, right down to claiming an emergency exit seat (I’m a tall unit) alongside my son, Liam, who is on the same flight. And let’s not forget, Air Vanuatu is a full-service airline. I wrote about it last time I went there … the food was the best I’ve ever had at 35,000 feet and the wine bottle makes a re-appearance regularly. It’s all included in the cost of the ticket. I talked a couple of times with Liam during the week and he is pumped in more ways than one. He’s so excited about the new house. “I had to fill the pool,” he said, “and I reckoned it would take about 50,000 litres, so I went and bought a pump, dropped a hose over the cliff and filled it with sea water. “At five the next morning I was swimming in it. “I bought a new surf rod, so the next thing it to crack a beer on the deck and try my luck.” His mate, Johnnie Bangalulu, lives in a village not too far away and he gave the place the thumbs up. Johnnie and his mates fish quite a lot in the area and he suggested that the place is live with heaps of crays and the line fishing is great too, with lots of tuna to be had. And he also said it’s an area from which the boys get lots of coconut crabs. Johnnie, by the way, was so enamoured of Cathy Freeman’s performance at the Sydney Olympics that he called his new daughter Cathyfreeman Bangalulu. Yep, Cathyfreeman … one word. And she’s a beautiful kid. I met her last time I was there. Tuna steaks, anyone? Perhaps fresh cray? And don’t forget the coconut crab. At that rate, we’re only ever likely to leave the house to buy something to drink.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

The trip and the prospect of some warm weather have me motivated to get into … well … let’s call in summer shape. I usually walk a couple of kilometres a day, but I’m now a month or so into a weights program of sorts. A few sets with dumbbells every morning and every night, salad lunches most days and not too much in the way of beers is helping to turn back the clock a bit. The weight (that’s mine, not the ones I lift) has dwindled to 86 kilograms. It’s long been a target to get back to 84, somewhere I haven’t been for years and that was when I hit the gym five days a week. So I’m pretty pleased that 84 kilograms is not out of the question. Yesterday I even hit the (home) gym for a short, sharp session. Hope that becomes a daily thing too. Part of the weight-loss program has even included a haircut. Reckon it’s the shortest it’s been in quite a while. That’s a small price to pay, given that the hairdresser (OK, I call him a barber) again introduced me to the six others in the salon as “This is Michael. He’s one of those weird heterosexuals”. Yeah, thanks again Chris. The healthy kick will continue at a rate of knots this afternoon. My friend Gaynor and I are heading to Sunbury to see Angelo, the hypnotist, and give up the smokes. Guess I’ll write plenty about that later.



GREEN WITH …

After an early start to the day yesterday (yeah, I was up and at ’em at about 6.30 … remember it was Saturday morning) and after the usual domestics, emails, twittering, lots of tea and a weights session, I headed to the market to see what was good for dinner. The market ritual is one of life’s pleasures … talking to my favourite stallholders, seeing what looks good in the fruit and veg bits … not just buying willy-nilly. I’m the sort of pain in the arse who, for example, picks up a bunch of coriander, smells it, checks for any sign of wear and tear, puts it back if there is, and then checks another bunch and maybe another until I get one that looks and smells just right. You get what you pay for. I popped in to see Chris, the Tattslotto man (he’s married to Anna, who runs a stall just across the way), for a chat and to buy a ticket. He handed me a bottle of 2006 Coolart Estate pinot from the Mornington Peninsula. “You’ll enjoy this,” he said. How about that for service? He was right. It had plenty of fruit, but was really soft and, well, round. Dinner was looming as a green pawpaw salad. I found a beauty at the Chinese grocer, along with some fresh ginger (it took five minutes to find the piece I wanted), some Thai basil, a couple of limes, some kaffir lime leaves and some chillis. I already had whatever else I needed at home except a feed of prawns, but they would be the last thing I bought before heading home. And anyway, there was beer and wine to taste at Swords. The beer, Holgate Brewhouse Road Trip, was an absolute beauty at 5.8 per cent. My mate Dave, who runs the shop, knows his beers (he tweets as @vulgarbeerman) and said the hops were what made it great. He wasn’t wrong. It was gonna be perfect with the salad. I wasn’t a fan of the new chardonnay … too much sugar for my liking. A couple of bunches of fresh flowers for the house from Lou, the flower man, and it was time to scout the fish shops for the prawns. Finally, I found the ones I wanted. I told the bloke how much I wanted to spend and he grabbed a heap and held them up to me. “Nah, better throw in a few more,” I said. He did and then charged me the original price. I’ll be back. For the record, I reckon I was the only person in the whole market who was wearing a Remembrance Day poppy. That was a bit sad. Dinner was a cracker (yeah, I know I say that a lot). I shredded the green pawpaw, threw in some beanshoots, a few strips of tomato, ditto some cucumber, ginger, chilli (it was a firecracker), some deep-fried shallots, diced spring onion, lots of torn Thai basil and Vietnamese mint (from the garden) and some peanuts that I dry-roasted and the crushed a bit. The dipping sauce/dressing was veg oil, fish sauce, a splash of wine vinegar, lime juice, spring onion, kaffir lime leaves shredded, a bit of sugar and some chilli. I tasted every time I added something and reckon in the end I got it right. I piled the salad onto the plate and whacked a pile of prawns around the edges. The deal was, dip the prawns, drain it onto the salad to dress it, and get amongst it. And the Road Trip beer, with lots of Chinook hops (among others) went perfectly with the tucker. I probably could have got a meal such as this on Victoria Street for much less than it cost me, but there’s something about making it yourself. Self, I said, you’ve done good.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Long weekends ... roll on holidays

How good is it to have a long weekend every week? Pretty bloody good, actually. The hardest part is finding enough things to do. Yeah, there’s always a trip to the market, the domestics to do, car washing (yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen), have a haircut (there’s only so many you can have), whatever … and then there’s the time after lunch. I mean, this getting up early crap is playing havoc with my life Day off? Yeah, why not get up at six and do stuff. Seriously though, getting up and at it is great and already there has been a dividend. I actually took the time to read my local newspaper and found an ad for the Wine Box Warehouse (wineboxwarehouse.com.au/), which is not too far from my joint. And given that I’m running low on quaffing wines, it was a must-do trip and, as it turned out, a productive one. It’s a seriously big, barn-like joint, stacked from arsehole to breakfast with cases of stuff to drink ... and rows of bottles on the counter, all waiting for tasters like me. There were just two of us there, the bloke behind the counter and me. He was chatty (maybe he was just pleased to have someone to talk to). “Have a look around, find something that interests you and have a taste,” he said. Not a problem, I thought, the idea of tasting wine at 11am is as good as any other time. It was a bit daunting given the volume, but I’m a good shopper. No messin’ about. I made a beeline for the pinots where there were lots of familiar labels. Then I saw Ketu Bay pinot on special at $9.99 a bottle by the case. There are some pretty decent pinots coming out of Marlborough and I thought I’d have a crack. It tasted all right. The tasting notes say: “A very good example of Marlborough NZ pinot noir. A bright clear and engaging deep ruby red colour with exciting garnet hues that promise all good things are coming your way. “A wonderful toasty nose, showing lifted dark red fruit, with hints of cherry ripe strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, tamarillo and some intoxicating cinnamon spice. “The entry is soft and generous, with delicious fresh summer ripened cherry and dark savoury raspberry building on the mid-palate. The tannins are a key part of the structure; although nice and soft they still add a hint of slight vanillin, making this an ideal all year round drinking style. “Perfect for tapas, pasta, chicken and when the kids are away and you unexpectedly get a moment to yourselves!” It weighs in at 14 per cent. “I’ll have a case of this, ta,” I said. Given that there are outlets selling single bottles of it on the dark side of 20 bucks, it seemed like a wise choice. It was. OK, so I have the quaffers covered for a while, now it’s off to the market to buy what I need to make chicken, pumpkin and sage risotto for dinner. I started the ute and pointed it in the right direction but had to pull over to take a call from my eldest son, Liam, in Vanuatu. He has just organised to rent a house. It’s a smart move, given that he wants to buy the place, well the house, not Vanuatu, and he figured that living there for a couple of months would give him a chance to weigh up the pros and cons of travelling (it’s 15-20 minutes from the centre of Port Vila) and work out how much dough is needed to renovate. “It’s a crackerjack house,” he said, “It’s on a cliff looking out to the ocean. There are steps cut into the cliff to get to the water. It’s got four bedrooms, a big deck, a tennis court and an infinity pool leading up to the cliff edge. And there’s a bungalow for the old man. “You can walk down to the water at low tide and set your cray pots or sit on the deck and cast a line and snag a tuna. The snorkelling’s good too and I just got a new spear gun. Waddya reckon?” “Reckon I’m in.” He’s coming to Melbourne in December for a wedding and will be heading back on the 20th. “Why don’t you and Joel come back with me and we’ll do the Christmas thing, a bit of fishing and whatever?” he said. “I’m in,” I said. “I’ll put it to Joel and see if he can get the time off.” Joel’s still working on the time off. Hopefully he can snag it. Well, that’s the quaffers sorted, the holidays sorted, now to get dinner sorted. To market, to market. The goodies for dinner were soon in the fridge and it was time to catch up with a friend, Ed, for coffee, which was a good thing given that he told me about some Nikon photographic gear that was up for grabs. I called my fiend Louise to ask her about it. “I’ll get it to you on Monday, via Ed,” she said. Roll on Monday, cos I’m very keen on Nikon gear. I have a D40x, which I bought new about three years ago and I love its work. I have about 10,000 photos on a hard drive … I’m planning to spend a week of the holidays editing and sorting them. But some new gear will certainly get a workout in Vanuatu. Another coffee (that’s two for the day … enough already) in the sunshine, shooting the breeze and soon it was time to pull up stumps. Well, time to go home, grab a jacket and head off to meet friends at Lina’s for a quiet glass or two. There was even a bite to eat involved, so the risotto would have to wait until Saturday. Saturday dawned and I was getting up at 6.30 just as Joel arrived home from work. We’d planned a shopping trip in Footscray later in the day at about noon. It was gonna be a tough ask for him given the hour. I have a friend, Pauline, who works at Savers there and she told me that they had lots of cowboy boots for sale and that it seems no one in Footscray wears them. The shopping plans were put on hold when a mate, Aussie Dave, messaged me and suggested we have a quiet drink or three, a bite to eat and perhaps a flutter on the horses. Why not? It’s been years since I’ve spent a Saturday arvo in a pub. We met at the Emerald in South Melbourne, surely one of the great pubs, with meals served all afternoon, and a good crowd in. Oh, and you can also have a bet there. And while we didn’t have a collect all day, it was good to catch up and solve a few of the world’s problems, all punctuated by the constant shrieks of a girl who was obviously having a good day on the punt. There aren’t too many pubs around, I reckon, that send around plates of freshly made sandwiches free for patrons later in the afternoon. It was a nice touch. I can’t remember better all-round service. The staff was fantastic. So too was the risotto later in the day. I didn’t quite prepare the way I perhaps should have, but the result was worth it. To wit: finely diced shallot, finely diced garlic and torn sage leaves. I cooked the chicken and the pumpkin in duck fat, which gave both a new dimension in taste (well I reckon it did). Then I did the usual with the Arborio rice and hot chicken stock until the rice was as creamy as all get out. I didn’t have any dry white opened for the cooking so I used a splash of vermouth. It worked well. I made sure that I didn’t eliminate all the liquid before stirring in the chicken and the pumpkin, sage leaves and a big dollop of butter before grating some aged parmigiano reggiano over the top. I washed it down with some Ketu Bay pinot. Job done. Earlier in the week, I revisited two friends. Chalkboard pinot (available at Vintage Cellars) and Full Fare pinot (from Swords). I’ve talked about both wines elsewhere on the blog. Both are worth the price of admission. I did also enjoy a 2008 Henschke Keyneton Euphonium shiraz, cab sav, merlot, cab franc blend (thanks Sue), which was drinking beautifully … it was complex with rich, dark fruit flavours and fine tannins and weighed in at a robust 14.5 per cent. That’s it. A blog post done and it’s time for Joel to surface and then we’ll head off to maybe buy some cowboy boots or whatever.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bypass surgery that misses the mark

This whole waking early thing has its upside and downsides. Saturday morning, it was a laugh. I went onto Twitter for the usual look at what was happening in the world, cup of tea and a smoke in hand, and there was this tweet.

I did respond to the author, alas she didn’t respond. Yeah, I know, that the Michael Vaughan to whom she referred is the former England cricket captain, but given that it’s my name (I had it before he did), it gave me a laugh. Then on Sunday night, I thought, bugger it, it’s time to change the side of the bed on which I sleep. No real reason, other than for a change and given that I’d re-arranged the furniture in my bedroom, it was as good a time as any to give it a try. It was a restless night ( of sorts), the usual tossing and turning, moving to the other side and retreating, but all in all not a bad result. And I didn’t kill myself or hit anything when I visited the loo in the middle of the night. In fact, by the time I woke on Monday morning at 6.15 (I got up soon afterwards), I was feeling good about it. The buoyant mood continued until I got into the shower. It was cold water and it stayed cold. Bugger. Off I went to the laundry to light the pilot light. No dice. This was plumber’s territory given the banshee-type noise made by the service. And anyway, the plumber was due (for the third time) to try to fix a leaking pipe under some concrete in the backyard. The report came back later in the day. Yep, it was a leaky pipe and the plumber dug a hole, bypassed the problem area and all was well with the world. The hot-water service needed nothing more than a service. Glory days. I got home from work, took a pee and flushed the toilet. OK, I pressed the button and nothing happened. Bugger. The water wasn’t turned off. Must be a backlog of air in the pipe, I thought. I went to the basin to wash my hands, turned on the cold water tap. Nothing. Bugger. It seems this Einstein of pipes certainly had bypassed the leak, but he’d also managed to bypass the bathroom. Bugger. Yep, he’ll be back tomorrow morning, but nothing he can do can erase the pain I went through having a cold shower (sure, there have been times when I’ve needed one) but this was torture. Bugger. And hey, I’m so looking forward to the hot shower in the morning, you know, with no cold water to back it off and make it bearable. Why me, God? Bugger.

A SINGLE-MINDED APPROACH 

I was having my daily salad lunch (yeah, I’m trying to be healthy) today, sitting in the office and reading the papers. Given the name of this blog, my eyes were attracted to a story headlined “Best of friends ’till death do us part”. It was a story about a survey done by online dating site eHarmony. I didn’t read much of the story, but I did check out the two lists: one was the top 10 most important qualities when looking for love.
1. Friendship
2. Chemistry
3. Enjoying the way I feel around my partner
4. Being open about how he/she feels towards me
5. Personality
6. Kindness
7. Romantic attraction
8. Being able to talk about personal problems
9. Being able to discuss how I feel about him/her
10. Physical closeness
I get that top 10 pretty well, but what really hit home were the top 10 least important qualities when looking for love:
1. My partner’s beliefs
2. The amount they smoke
3. Age
4. The amount they drink
5. Ethnicity
6. Height
7. Education
8. Income
9. Religion
10. Knowing they are to blame when things go wrong.
Yep, I reckon there’s a lot of blokes out there, just like me, who will read the “least important” things and think: hey, I’m half a chance to find the one.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Misogyny … now this is the real deal

A mate sent me these three ’50s advertisements at about the time Tony Abbott was in hot water over misogyny claims. Reckon they’re worth sharing.

THE SON SHINES AS AN EXAMPLE

My youngest son, Joel, has moved in with the old man and what a good thing it is. There’s the company – he’s a good talker, who covers many and varied subjects – and there’s the calming influence he has on me. He doesn’t drink or smoke. Yeah I do both in abundance, but he sets a good example, something I aspire to, at least with the cigarettes. He’s tidy and also makes his bed every day. What sort of example is that for a son to set for his father? Basically, he has created his own castle in his room. Which is kind of why I was up early yesterday (OK, it was before seven, which has become the norm. Even today, Saturday, I was up and at it by 6.15) doing the domestics … washing, unloading the dishwasher, tweeting, checking emails, drinking copious amounts of tea, reading the papers (can we still call them papers when we read online?). The next thing I knew, I was re-arranging the furniture in my bedroom. It took just an hour. A bed here, a cupboard there, a lamp here and there, a dressing table there, a TV somewhere … and a partridge in a pear tree. The carpet got re-acquainted with the vacuum cleaner and it was job done. I even decided to put four large candles in the fireplace, which looks an absolute treat and adds to the ambience. Reckon that by 11 o’clock I’d put the washing away, got a new bedroom, paid some bills, including the tax man (Jesus, do they ever end?), had a shower and was ready to face whatever the day offered. First up it was a tour of my new digs … Joel and his girlfriend Erin finally surfaced – she’s on day shift and he’s doing nightshift – and I’m not sure what she made of my comment. “I just though I’d try something different cos it was time to try a new spot for the workbench (bed).” She smiled and muttered something about people doing their best work there. Then it was all about pottering around because the skies opened up and it was cold. Still, it was good for the garden (more on that later). My other son, Liam, called from Vanuatu with what he said was exciting news. “I’ve got your hair,” he blurted down the phone. “I’m growing it and it has developed curls. Looks like a bloody affro. It’s as high as it is wide.” It took a while for my laughter to subside. “And I reckon I’m close to buying a house,” he said. “It’s an absolute cracker. It’s about 15 minutes from the centre of town (I know the neighbourhood) and has four bedrooms, a pool, tennis court and is on a four-metre cliff, which has steps cut into it down to the beach. There’s a big deck around the pool, but get this, you can sit on the deck and cast a line. You can fish from the backyard. “The place is in three wings, with thatched-roof walkways between each wing. Oh yeah, there’s also a bungalow for the old man.” That got the old man’s mind wandering, this time to re-arranging furniture in the bungalow. Who knows? The rest of the day involved a return to the current reality, re-arranging the furniture in the dining room, scrubbing the bath, re-arranging the deckchairs, whatever, before braving the rain and heading off to meet friends to share a bottle of sangiovese. Bloody good it was too. I backed it up at home with my favourite quaffer. Some Macon Villages chardonnay … don’t reckon I’ll ever get tired of its nice citrus nose or the fruity (not over the top), creamy texture. I’m down to my last two bottles. Another case is called for when my local reopens after a two-week renovation. Sleep came easy in the new bedroom, but not before I’d cracked a toe on one of the newly placed bits. Yeah, I’ll get used to it.

IT’S EASY BEING GREEN 

My garden is coming on well. It’s such a good thing to get out there and pick stuff to eat. At the moment, despite having a yard not my bigger than a shoebox, I have heaps of flat-leaf parsley, mint, basil, chocolate mint, Vietnamese mint, tarragon, horseradish, fennel, chillis, spinach, sage, lemon thyme, regular thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, mustard greens, cardamom (it doesn’t set pods because it’s too cold in Melbourne, but the leaves have good flavour), chives, nasturtiums, rainbow chard, a bay tree, a thing called olive herb, some eternal basil, a lemon tree, a tamarillo tree and an olive tree. And there’s a tray of seedlings with lots of dill and chervil almost ready to plant out. There’s also some hanging baskets with petunias and pansies, a window box with beautiful white/pink geraniums, a few yuccas and assorted bits and bobs. Apologies to any that I’ve forgotten. The olive tree looks likely to set enough fruit to preserve. I did olives a couple of years ago, but only ever bought them from the market. It’s time to have another crack. Oh, and there’s a prolific orange tree in the front garden. I reckon it sets at least 500 fruit every season, which keeps my friends happy.

GOOD DAY AT THE OFFICE 

I sat in the editor’s chair at The Weekly Review a couple of weeks ago while Eils, the boss, took some well-earned R&R. While she was swanning around at a wedding in Sri Lanka, we were sweating it in a different way. But the week went well. It was good to have her back last week … even better when she handed me a bit more responsibility. We initiated a couple of new systems while she was away and they worked. I came home on Tuesday night and said to Joel: “You know, I can’t remember having a better day at work than the one I had today. It just went well.” I was in a very good mind space. Still am. Thursday night after we’d put the papers to bed (early as well), Eils and I were having a quiet beer at our desks when she said: “Time to make it official. I’m giving you a title. You are now officially deputy editor. Well done.” Like I said, I was in a good mind space, only better.

PINOTS GALORE 

Last Sunday I rocked on down to Ormond Hall for Pinot Palooza. There were about 50 exhibitors (not sure just how many but there were heaps) from Oz and across the ditch in New Zealand. Reckon it’s not hard to get smashed at something like that. I tasted 15 wines in the first hour and then thought whoa, slow down, or this will get ugly. Time out for a smoke because one wine was merging with the other. Yeah I could have done the spit thing, but I don’t like the idea of wasting it. I drank water in between tastings, so there. Seems every one I tasted was a cracker. Montalto Reserve was my favourite Australian and TWR … that’s Te Whare Ra Wines … was my favourite Kiwi. There was also a survey with prizes for the best of Oz and Kiwi. Girls were wandering around with iPads getting the punters to enter their best for the chance of a prize or two. Bit of a problem there. It seems that TWR was not included in the survey. The girl told me to stay where I was and she headed off to find her boss to get it fixed. Fifteen minutes later she returned and said there was a technical problem and they couldn’t fix it. She took my survey in my favourite way … pen and paper … I did feel obliged to tell the TWR woman (she was great when I tasted it) that her company had been left off the survey. She was not happy. I managed to soak up some of the excesses with a tasty pulled-pork kebab with lots of coriander and lemongrass. It did the trick. I guess I tasted about 30 pinots before pinot fatigue started to set in. The only sensible thing to do was to grab a cab and head home, grab a plate with some brie, red grapes, cheddar, olives, salami, beetroot dip, some shaved fennel and fresh baguette and a bottle of pinot, which was poured into one of the splendid Riedel pinot glasses that were in the Pinot Palooza tote bag. The pinot, by the way, was Full Fare from Swords at the market. It’s from Mornington Peninsula and it oozes spicy herby flavours and a hint of cloves on the nose and it has a nice soft finish with cherry and rhubarb. It’s 13.8 per cent. It was a fitting way to see out Pinot Palooza Sunday.

A DROP OF THIS, A DROP OF THAT 

There have been plenty of good things in glasses at my joint of late, not that it will surprise anyone who takes the time to read this blog. Even though I’ve cut (most) beer from my agenda (it’s a weight thing), I do have a treat once a week, usually from my mate, Dave, at Swords wine shop at South Melbourne Market. Dave tweets as @vulgarbeerman and really knows his stuff. Today, for the record, he’s got Spikey Norman (70% apple and 30%pear) Cider and Bohemian Pilsner & American Pale Ale on tasting today, along with Swords new moscato. I had a crack at Before the Dark Black IPA . It’s a limited edition from Mountain Goat. It’s a big 7.4% and is made using five different malts and late-picked hops. It’s a beauty. I also tried some Road Trip IPA from Holgate. It’s one of the best beers I can remember. Lots of hops and pine on the nose, then there’s a lovely passionfruit taste. The label says grapefruit and marmalade too. Dunno about that, but I’d drink it every day of the week. Also tried Maison de Parnassa 2011 cab sav. It’s 13%, a cracker that drinks easily and cracker value at $12.99. Another beauty was Swords 2011 sangiovese/merlot from Adelaide Plains. It’s chocolatey with black fruit on the nose and finishes with cherry and star anise. I’ve had three bottles and will probably grab another today. Then there was Rocland Estate’s marsanne/viognier/roussanne blend, a Coldstream pinot, a Chateau de Citeaux 2009 Bourgogne chardonnay, a couple of bottles of Marques de Tezona 2010 tempranillo, an Underground pinot from Mornington Peninsula and even a celebratory bottle of Bolly. My mate Ben (@senorthomas on Twitter) gave me a bottle of The Kraken black spiced rum. It’s a great way to finish up night with lots of warming chocolate. I was given a second bottle as a going away gift from the crew at Crikey. Ben also snaffled a bargain, which he passed on … a case of six Seppelt Pinot Noir Chardonnay sparkling. Obviously there was lack of storage because the p[lace was unloading it for $30 a case (six). I think I saw it for $19-odd a bottle. It’s not a great drink, but it’s a long way from the worst I’ve had.

FLEXING THE MUSSELS 

I think one of the great bargains at South Melbourne Market has to be mussels at five bucks a kilo. Apart from the 10 or so minutes scrubbing and debearding them, it’s all too easy. Finely sliced onion and four big cloves of garlic into some olive oil to soften, a big splash of white wine, burn off the alcohol, add a heap of halved, hand-crushed cherry tomatoes (you could use canned) some finely sliced fennel, a handful of torn basil leaves, a handful of roughly cut flat-leaf parsley, then bung in the mussels and steam them until they’re open. Chuck out any that are still closed. Viola. A fresh, crusty baguette and that’s it. I ate the whole kilo band soaked up the sauce with the bread. It was the beginning of a love affair. Speaking of mussels, I’m flexing my own muscles … I’m three weeks into a light morning and night weights program to get a bit of shape now that summer’s coming. I’ve dropped three kilos as well. Even had a check-up with the doc, who told me that the only disease I have is young person’s disease. Roll on the hot weather. And speaking of love affairs, I’m hooked on a triple cream brie called Le Delice. My local wine bar, Lina’s, gets it from France, but it was with great joy that I found it in the cheese room in a deli at the South Melbourne Market. She’s a great mistress.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

... and the policeman was surprised ...

It has been a while since I’ve put pen to paper, as it were. I reckon the weight of numbers has conspired against it. And there have been plenty … numbers that is. Lots of words to work with at the two jobs, lots of great meals, great wines, great beers … yeah, just lots of stuff (hangovers performed well in the numbers since I last hit this site). Reckon I had a hangover big enough to photograph recently when I wandered to the market to get some food to soak up the excesses of the night before. I parked behind our office and trundled down the lane to the market. There was a purse, bulging with plastic cards, on the ground. I did the honourable thing and stuck it in my calico shopping bag and did the food thing. I stopped at the cop shop on the way home and handed the purse to a young uniformed bloke. “Dunno what’s in it. It’s nothing to do with me,” I said. He looked surprised. “Anyway, it may be something embarrassing to the owner.” He opened it and discovered nothing more embarrassing than some cash and a bundle of plastic cards, including a driver’s licence. I had to fill in a form. He said to me: “If it’s not claimed, you’ll hear from us and get the contents.” “Nah, donate it to the policeman’s benevolent fund. It’s not mine.” He looked surprised and asked whether it would be OK to let the owner know who I was and where I lived. “Yep, that’s not a problem.” It turned out that it was someone who lives about 150 metres from me. The young copper thanked me for my honesty. Not so, the owner. I don’t reckon it would have been too much trouble for the owner to maybe drop a note in my letterbox to say thanks, but that never happened. Shame that. Mind you, I felt good about doing the right thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Legenday lunch ... a French quaffer ... The good oil ... Pinot envy ...

Lunch with my good friend Jane (she’s at @winematters on the tweet thing) is always a good thing, something made even better by the venue.
A window table tucked in the corner of a really busy Café Di Stasio (http://www.distasio.com.au/) was a great place to eat, drink and watch the world go by.
The food was amazingly good; ditto the service, atmosphere, wine and company.
Malory, who does the front of house, looked after the starters, but only after she had organised a Campari cocktail for Jane and a Campari and soda for me.
First up on the plate was the simply best pate I have tasted. And taste it, over and over, I did. Great crusty, griddled bread and a bottle of Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco Vorberg Riserva 2008 made it a cracker of a start. The wine grew an extra leg in the bottle. It was great from the first glass and by the end of the bottle it was my new best friend.
Then came some fish cakes, some deep-fried whitebait (with aioli) and then some parmesan-and-herb crusted oysters. Sweet mother of Jesus. Normally, I don’t like oysters anyway other than natural, but these little fellas were to die for. They were succulent, just warmed through and the crust was, well, a masterstroke. Suddenly, there was another best friend. And another, this time Ronnie di Stasio, who came and sat with us and he got the animation level way up. He’s a cracker bloke who tells it like it is.
By the time the next starter arrived, we had ventured into another bottle of wine, this time a Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva Bugialla. The starter was to be another best friend. To wit, some crusty bread and a small omelette smothered in truffle shavings. Reckon I was almost done but it couldn’t be because I’d ordered a rare sirloin. Sheesh.
Malory joined us for a bite. She and Jane went for pasta. My beef was a cracker. So too the veg side dish and salad. We sat there post-food, just shooting the breeze, solving some of the world’s problems and deciding that, OK, time for the bill (the restaurant was empty by this stage, save one waiter and the three of us).
Not that I needed it, but I suggested that before we paid, perhaps a shot of grappa would be a nice final touch. OK, it was two. And it was Berta grappa. I’ve always loved grappa and I’m annoyed that my local bottleshop no longer sells it. Thank God because if it stocked Berta, it could become a habit.
The Bertas were enough for me to say “enough”. I did, after all, have a pinot and Peking duck dinner to go to and I wasn’t feeling in great shape for it (but that’s another story), and the time was on the bad side of 5.30.
We paid the bill and wandered onto Fitzroy Street (apparently I met my friend Molly from Lina’s … OK I do remember seeing her) and headed for home.
Lunch doesn’t get a whole lot better than at Café Di Stasio. I can’t wait to get back.

Wolfing it down

Things at my afternoon job are moving at a gallop. We’re probably the only print media company in the world that is actually expanding. We’ve started new titles and now have more staff from all corners of the Melbourne map.
What better way to put it in perspective than to have a meet and greet dinner for the senior staff at Mr Wolf in St Kilda. Great food, great wine (OK, it was a pinot fest) and some very fine single malt to end, proving that we’re all one big, happy family.

A new case

I just got a case of my favourite French quaffing wine … Macon Villages Chardonnay … from Vintage Cellars. The last case I got was $10.99 a bottle. It’s now $13-odd a bottle, but it really is good drinking.
And speaking of good drinking, I’ve had a couple of bottles lately of a Rocland Estate blend (51 per cent marsanne, 31 per cent viognier, 18 per cent rousanne) from Swords Wines in the South Melbourne Market. It’s $18 a bottle and, I reckon, is one of the better blends to come out of McLaren Vale.
In fact, I started a bottle late yesterday afternoon while I was busy with a huge pot of spag bol sauce for dinner and to stock the freezer.

The good oil

Truffles have played a reasonable role recently. I cooked my goat snags (they were fantastic) and with them had steamed cavallo nero with runny brie strewn through it and a splash of lemon-infused olive oil, and spuds with lots of butter and truffle shavings. Maybe it wasn’t the most healthy meal I’ve ever had, but it tasted good. Any anyway, everything is OK in moderation.
‘I followed up with scrambled, truffle-infused eggs on toast with a handful of chopped chives. The eggs were stored with truffle and the shell, being as porous as it is, absorbs the smell. It was heaven on a stick.
I also made some truffle oil.
A nice clean, washed wine bottle (there’s never a shortage of them at my joint), filled with extra virgin olive oil and the last of my truffle. About six shavings did the trick.
I’ll give it time to infuse, so I won’t use it for a week or three. Then it’s game on.

Simply the best

Burger chains may sponsor the Olympics and the AF’n’L, but for me there is just one.
After a longer-than-usual day at work on Thursday, I opted for an Andrews hamburger. It seems to have become a once-a-week treat for me. And I do mean treat. For anyone who hasn’t checked it out, do it.
I wrote a piece for Greg, the owner, a while ago. Perhaps it explains what I’m on about. It reads:
“Love is a must.”
With those four words, Greg Pappas, the owner of the iconic Andrews Hamburgers on Bridport Street in Albert Park, sums up the secret to his success.
It’s a love for the best-possible ingredients, cooked to perfection by Greg’s mother, Georgia… it’s a love for his customers who travel from far and wide … it’s his love for the Sydney Swans (but that’s another story).
And the customers do travel. Some come in luxury convertible cars, some by bicycle, others come by tram, and for some it’s a regular-as-clockwork walk .
Another Melbourne icon, Ron Barassi, said: "I have to get in the car and drive four or five kilometres, so you wouldn’t do that unless you really had a good result. It’s a family show and he’s a mad Swans supporter as well . Apart from that their hamburgers are fantastic and they have very, very good dim sims, their chips are fantastic.”
High praise indeed.
Greg’s uncle, Andrew Georghiou, started the business in 1957 after leaving Cyprus and migrating here at the age of 20.
For the past 53 years, little has changed at the Bridport Street institution. Competitors have come and gone, but Andrews has remained constant, but for a few things to tidy up after a fire in the ’80s. It’s still the same tiled floor and wood panelling and the 1950s menu board is still intact. There’s still a large bottle of Coke on a corner shelf, placed there by Greg’s uncle the day he opened the business in 1957.
Prices have changed. More than half a century ago a burger sold for the equivalent of 10 cents: one with the lot was 18 cents. The mince from the supplier was 20 cents a kilogram.
Greg, who bought the business in 2004, maintains his uncle’s simple but effective approach.
“Everyone says there are secrets, but the basic rule with our burgers is that we have the best produce (he has loyal, long-time suppliers) – the best bacon, the best beef, the best lettuce – and everything is prepared on the day.” It’s just salt and pepper once the meat is on the grille, where the perfect heat is paramount. And the cast-iron grille has never been cleaned with chemical products, a fact that helps the burgers retain a unique flavour.
Perhaps the final word belongs to Matt Preston, judge on TV’s highly successful MasterChef and recently voted the world’s best restaurant critic.
Preston last year published a list (he loves lists) of the Five Things I Get an Irresistible Desire To Consume In Melbourne.
It’s a list, he says, that “provides a fascinating snapshot of the great dishes of Melbourne” … it’s “five that have a special significance because it’s what I craved after five months of living north of the border”.
Number two on Matt Preston’s list: the burger at Andrews.
“… it’s the burger at this Albert Park institution that I get wistful over. It’s a generous sub-$10 feed: the secret is the way the meat has a toasty crunch that is matched by the fresh crunch delivered by pairing shredded drumhead cabbage with the iceberg lettuce that fills the bap”.
More than half a century on and the list of people sharing the world’s best restaurant critic’s craving for Melbourne’s best hamburger continues unabated.
One with the lot, thanks.

Pinot envy

There was a press handout that hit the office during the week and it certainly created some interest. Reckon I’m in for a ticket.
To wit:
THE TASTING FESTIVAL FOR PEOPLE WHO THINK PINOT NOIR ROCKS!
Introducing PINOT PALOOZA, the exciting new pinot noir festival for pinotphiles being held in Melbourne on Sunday 21 October 2012.
The Wine Guide and Dig Marketing Group have joined forces to create an opportunity for those folks who are so crazy about pinot noir, that spending an entire 3.5 hours basking in pinot noir glory just isn’t enough!
More than 90 of the finest pinot noirs from Australia and New Zealand will be on tasting, many of which will be presented by the winemakers. For those who want to turn from pinot noir freaks into pinot noir geeks, they can come into the ‘inner sanctum’ of the Green Room where wine educator and writer Ben Edwards and wine educator Dan Sims will spend 45 minutes taking them through the finer points of this awesome wine.
PINOT PALOOZA will also offer some rockin’ good music and a selection of fine food chosen to match the high notes of these sexy pinot noirs.
As a special Early Bird offer those people who purchase tickets online at pinotpalooza.com.au before Friday 17 August will receive entry into this pinot noir extravaganza for only $50. This excellent price includes a complimentary Riedel Extreme Pinot Noir glass worth $30! Each of the tasting sessions is capped at 350 people so get in early to secure your spot.
WHAT: Pinot Palooza
WHERE: Ormond Hall, 557 St Kilda Road (corner of Moubray St), Prahran
WHEN: Sunday October 21, 2012. Tasting: 11.30 – 15.00 and 16.00 – 19.30.
Green Room Masterclass: 11.00 & 12.30 and 15.30 & 17.45.
TICKETS: General admission: $50 before Friday August 17 and $60 after this date.
Admission includes a Riedel Extreme Pinot Noir Glass worth $30, a copy of the James Halliday Wine Companion Magazine, a bottle of gorgeous San Pellegrino or Acqua Panna mineral water. Food will be available for purchase.
Green Room Masterclass: The Green Room Masterclass can be booked individually at a cost of $50 per session additional to general admission ticket.
MORE: pinotpalooza.com.au

Not bad for starters

Being the slack arse that I am, I still have two cars, a Subaru Forrester and a Toyota Landcruiser ute.
I bought the ute with the idea that I’d go back on the road for another look at Australia. Suffice to say, circumstances that developed and then faded conspired against me.
I’ve been driving the ute (cos I enjoy it) but the time has come to sell it. Any takers … ’05 and it has done just 110,000.
The bottom line was that I hadn’t driven the Forrester for almost five weeks.
I was prepared to get the jumper leads but thought I’d give it a go.
It fired up first time.

Making cents

Speaking of cars, I’m always on the lookout for change to feed the parking ticket machine at the office for my arvo job.
Suffice to say, I’ve usually got a pocket full of coins.
I’ve taken to putting all the five cent coins into a bag with the idea of giving them to one of the homeless blokes that I usually see up the street from my place.
I waited until there was about five bucks (give or take a coin or two) and headed up the street to buy a baguette.
I was on the lookout for a bloke, the one with the face tatts. Most locals are a bit afraid of talking to him and he doesn’t get too many donations.
Bingo. I wandered over to him and handed him the bag of coins and apologising because they were five cent coins.
“Thanks brother,” he said before giving me a hug. “You’re a good fella.”
There’s a good lesson in that. Don’t judge people on the way they look. And give.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ah, the good life ... and then some

I just had a call from my son, Liam, in Vanuatu. He lives in Port Vila, but for a few days he and his girlfriend, Dan, are on Espiritu Santo.
“Reckon we live on the wrong island,” he said. “This place is unbelievable.
“We went to Champagne Beach (which is supposed to be in the world’s top 10 beaches), but we’ve found a better one. Port Olry.
“Lunch on the beach today is, and get this, it’s 20 bucks a head, a lobster, a coconut crab, some other crabs and fish. Seriously, 20 bucks a head and it includes cold beers.”
Yeah, thanks for that.

Comeback time … and nobody knows the truffle I’ve seen

Blogging’s a bit like having a drink. There are times when it becomes a regular thing; there are times when you just can’t be bothered (that’s more likely to happen with blogging rather than the fruit of the vine).
Sometimes you need a fix. You know, those times when you’ve had a biggie on a Saturday night and by about four the next afternoon it’s probably time for a hair of the dog.
Blogging has been like that for me. Call it winter hibernation, whatever you want to call it. For many and varied reasons, I’ve put the blogging glass away for the past few weeks. But now, it seems, it’s time for a hair or the blog.
It’s hard to know where to start because there has been lots of good food, good wines, a bit of culture via the opera, some gardening, plenty of hard work, lots of friends (old and new), the odd new responsibility and some parenting … among other things.
One of my priorities has been to clean up the backyard and get the food supply (such as it is/was) into some semblance of order.
I somehow managed to fill the ute with shit of various forms to take to the local tip, and reorganise my supply of pots. I have just two small patched of dirt in my yard, one of which is home to a (newish) lemon tree and the other to two chilli bushes that are self-sown bushes from a tried and true variety. They last about five years, grow to more than two metres tall and yield several kilos of little firecrackers that have lots of poke.
I’ve added some coriander, flat-leafed parsley, a few varieties of mint, nasturtiums, chives, some rainbow chard, oregano, sage, thyme (three) and a native lemon myrtle. Yeah, and there’s also an olive tree and I also planted a few flowers. Well, you’ve gotta have some colour.
It’s a nice thing to come home from work with nothing planned for dinner. What to do? Do the rounds of the garden, pick a big bunch of herbs and a chilli, chop them all finely, mix with some olive oil and toss through some pasta and grate some parmesan over the top. Viola! Dinner in just eight minutes.
And now for something completely different. Opera.
Regular readers will know that my usual haunt, Lina’s in Albert Park, holds occasional opera nights. And so it came to pass a few of weeks ago.
There’s something kinda nice about having a rare steak and frites dinner (with greens on the side), a bottle of tempranillo (a bloody cracker that has become my regular tipple of late) and being entertained by my mate, Ben (he’s a tenor) and big Ed, a Samoan who played rugby (he’s a big unit) before discovering that his bass baritone voice was an easier living than being at the bottom of a scrum.
These guys, accompanied by a girl on the piano, took turns in wowing the crowd (it was packed) in between sets from a duo who play French café-type jazz.
Musically, it was a great night.
I ended up out the front having a smoke and chatting to big Ed. I asked him where he stood on popular (read rock) music and his response amazed me.
“I used to sing in the backing group of an Elvis tribute band,” he said. My flabber was gasted. I reckon I know the words to hundreds of Elvis songs. Suddenly we launched into song, (I think it was Don’t be Cruel … to a heart that’s true) me singing the lead and Ed doing the backing. It ended too quickly (great fun though) because the lure of another tempranillo won out.
The whole shebang was packing up and I did the honourable thing and offered to carry the piano to a car. Too easy, and I did.
Back inside having a drink with the piano player, she said that she had seen me around the village quite a bit (there’s a surprise). I decided to ask her whether she’d like to catch up for coffee but she beat me to it. “Would you like my phone number?” Well yeah.
Ben (he of Logan Musical Events) staged an opera concert at the Melbourne Town Hall a week later.
The music was from the Verismo genre by composers Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Giordano. It was also the debut performance of The Australian Concert Orchestra conducted by Stephen Mould and managed by principal cellist Chris Howlett. It was brilliant.
The players were joined by Opera Australia tenor Rosario La Spina, bass baritone Gary Rowley and sopranos Donna-Maree Dunlop and Ariya Sawadivong. Rosario was a knockout.
Oh, and my mate, Hanks, was the very effective door bitch.
About the only downside was a quick after-show drink with my friend, Maria, in the bar at The Weston Hotel across the road. We settled by the fire for a chat and a glass of Veuve (just the one because she was driving). We made it last about half an hour. Time to go and I headed to the bar, white silk scarf trailing behind me (well, it was opera) to pay. Sixty bucks for two glasses. Man, that’s some mark-up.
In a shock twist, Lina’s beckoned for a few before heading off into the night.

ROLL ON OCTOBER

My youngest son, Joel, is in a share house with some friends and, many good things in life, it’s about to come to an end with each of them going their separate ways.
It seemed logical for him to move in with his old man, given that he works bullshit hours as a croupier at the casino and lives far enough away to be in another country in Europe.
He was very lucky a couple of weeks ago when he and his friend, Mel, (she was driving) clipped a broken-down car in the left lane of the freeway (the driver didn’t bother to pull over into the emergency lane). Their car spun wildly and, thank God, didn’t roll. It ended well.
Gotta say I’m looking forward Jo moving in. Perhaps his sensible attitude (no drinking, smoking, etc) to just about everything will rub off on me. I hope so.

STORM THE BASTILLE

I was invited to my friend Pippa’s house on Bastille Day to celebrate her birthday. And what a cracker night it was. My mate, Hanks, and I armed with French wines and black berets cadged a lift with the rare and lovely Toni to the wilds of Bentleigh.
Toni’s a hoot. She blogs at Style Weekly. Have a read at www.styleweekly.com.au.
The company and dinner was a great combination. Pippa, Michael (he did the cooking with some help from Toni), Charles, Hanks and me.
Oysters, grilled asparagus with almonds, beef Wellington, potato gratin, and cheesecakes were the order of the night, each one a triumph … washed down with French bubbles and wines of all sorts.
I even took the time to serenade Toni (she actually suggested that I can sing).
She responded by painting some bright red nail polish on my pinkie. It does look incongruous alongside the silver skull ring on my wedding finger (it must seem like a sort of anti-wedding ring, but it really isn’t. I just like it).
I had a drink with Toni on Friday night and she was surprised that the nail polish was still intact. So there.

WINE BARGAINS

And speaking of drinks, there are a couple that regularly make it to dinner with me of late.
Vintage Cellars has a special at the moment … Macon Village chardonnay … and at $10.99 a bottle (by the case), it’s a steal. It’s not, mind, a great wine, just one that’s very, very drinkable.
The French chard’s partner in crime at my place is a durif … Date Brothers 2004 … available at Sword’s wines at the South Melbourne Market. It’s on special at two for $30 and I grabbed a case yesterday. It’s full of liquorice, smooth tannins and is bloody good value given it has a bit of age about it.
Yesterday was local farmers’ market day in my neighbourhood. For a change, I got there early, had my usual cup of chai and gave the wallet a workout.
To wit: organic cavalo nero, organic kipfler spuds, an 11-gram piece of black truffle, six truffle-infused eggs (in a glass jar) and some goat sausages (they’re amazingly lean with, it seems just enough fat).
A trip later to the regular market yielded some brie, Gruyère, Spanish anchovies, dips, cornichons, pastrami and a baguette.
Yeah, it’s gonna be a good week for food at Chateau Mick.

IN THE CHAIR

My editor, Eils, at my afternoon job decided on some R&R recently and left me in the chair. It was a good week and seemed to go well.
But the following Monday it was with some trepidation that I walked into the office.
“You did good,” she said as she gave me a hug.
Gotta be honest here and say that, yeah, it was OK, but only because Eils did all (and I do mean all) the hard work before she left.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Retirement? Not on my watch

If ever I wanted confirmation that we live in a disposable society (and I didn’t), it came at the weekend and showed me that some of the kids of today just don't get it.
Now, I have a watch ... a 17-jewel movement, solid-gold watch given to me by my grandmother for my birthday in 1966. It's still a thing of beauty and I still get a kick out of the fact that I have to wind it every day ... yeah, it doesn't have a battery.
A bit like its owner, age has wearied it a tad ... the winder mechanism has worn a bit ... reckon after 46 years everything wears a bit and it's hard to get the part to repair it, but I do. (My personal winder is still in working order for what it's worth.)
I go to the same jeweller in South Melbourne about every 18 months or so and get it serviced or fixed when the need arises.
As I did last Saturday. There was a kid on duty in the shop ... about 18 or so, a really personable young fella and I'm guessing it was his first job.
I explained that I was somewhat of a regular because of my watch.
I was blown away when he said: “Perhaps it’s time to get rid of it and get a new one.”
Apart from the fact that it is (I have been told … and it was something offered, not asked for) worth about four grand (probably more given that the estimate was given to me about 10 years ago), it’s part of my life, a tangible link to my long-departed grandma. It’s something I’ll have and use until I eventually step off the coil. I love it.
My grandma, by the way, always put lots of thought into her gift giving.
I still have my first Esky – a blue, galvanised-iron number that holds just a six pack – which she gave me when it had become apparent that six packs would play a constant part in my life. Yeah, she could read the signs early.

PAR FOR THE COURSE


Speaking of age wearying things, I had a hit at the local golf driving range three days ago with some mates.
Reckon in the main I hit them pretty well.
But it hit back. Three days on and the pain of using muscles long idle is finally subsiding.
I guess that means it has to become a regular thing to avoid three days of feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why shopping locally is a good thing

I always knew that Sunday would be a good day. Got up nice and early to write a blog post, then did a bit of local must-do shopping before hitting the South Melbourne Market to buy whatever.
So, unusually, I snagged a parking spot at the door.
Now, given that I’m somewhat of a bogan … yeah the hair at the back is a definite mullet when it’s not tied into a ponytail. So, I wandered in to the hairdresser and asked if someone would be able to plait it for me.
“No problems,” said a bloke I’d not seen there before. “Come on in, we can do it now.”
I grabbed a seat and the young girl, as she was busily putting a sheet over me, said: “So, how much are we taking off?”
“Sorry,” I said, “but I just asked if someone could plait the crap hangin’ down the back of my neck.”
“OK, too easy,” she said.
She did it in a couple of minutes. I wandered over to pay and the bloke said to me “Nah, on the house. It just took a couple of minutes. Just as long as you do someone a good turn today, that’ll be enough.”
I thanked them both and left with a smile on my face and headed to the stall where I get most of my shampoo/deodorant type stuff, where I bought deodorant and Band-Aids. I was telling the girl who served me about the good turn at the hairdresser.
“That’s great,” she said, “but I’ll do your plait any time you want.” I’m a regular customer and we always chat, but that’s above and beyond.
“You’re on” I said as I wandered off.
I bought some chicken and vegetables, some cheeses, a baguette, had a long chat with Tony, the butcher, (I didn’t buy anything from him, but he still has the time to be nice … he’s at stall 32 and has fantastic produce) and then bought a couple of bottle of Sunbury point from Swords (nine times out of 10 I get a discount of some sort).
For me, it’s hard to believe what I did next … for the first time probably since the seventies, I bought a jumper, what’s more, it’s a red jumper, and a long-sleeved T-shirt.
Shit, I finally own a jumper.

R&R par excellence, a fantastic beer and other stuff

Being in her space … it’s like the feeling of being in love for the very first time …

The prospect of some well-earned R&R loomed large for a quite few days … it finally came to pass last weekend. Some time at Balgownie Estate winery in the Yarra Valley was a perfect way to blow away the cobwebs of the city.
It’s not a long drive before finding yourselves in the rolling hills and myriad signs directing you to all sorts of good things from the vine.
The sign that first got our attention was Fergusson’s, and it was a good thing. We opted for lunch there, providing they had a platter of bits and pieces and a place to sit in the sun and a glass of decent wine. Tick, tick, tick.
The girl doing front of house in the restaurant would be an asset anywhere. She was super in organising lunch (super in all she did). There were options … a menu that included various roasts (they were sitting, being warmed by the large open fire and smelled fantastic), but we wanted a platter.
Although she explained that the chef usually did an antipasto platter or a cheese platter, she said she’d organise a mix.
We grabbed a glass of a most excellent Fergusson’s chardonnay and snaffled a table in the sun. It started out perfectly … the wine really hit the spot with plenty of fruit (think melons and berries) … and then it got better. The platter arrived and it was a bloody cracker. Warm, spiced calamari rings, warm and chunky garlic prawns (with some excellent home-made aioli), some smoked salmon, some ham, a hard cheese, a soft cheese, pitted olives, pan-roasted veg including eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, various greens, thick slices of crusty, freshly baked bread, a basket full of water crackers … was this the best $25 ever spent? Yep, it was $25. OK, maybe not the best but it was right up there. It was one of those lunches that deserved to be taken slowly … and it was. The sun was shining, we had the large balcony to ourselves, the food and wine were great and it would have been so easy to camp there for the weekend. But Balgownie was calling. Check-in time was 2pm and there were some cold bubbles on ice.
The room was spacious, well fitted out, there was a large spa, and from the balcony (and the spa for that matter) there was a leafy view of most things Yarra Valley.
So what better place than the balcony to sit, chat and sip … the drink of choice was chilled Moet. It was a perfect way to relax before heading to the day spa for a massage … yeah, OK, but I did say that this was a weekend of R&R.
Although the day spa staff was running a bit behind schedule, it was worth the wait. We were ushered into what they call a dual room and the girls set about unleashing all the stresses and knots, whatever. It was at times painful (but always good pain) and I can’t remember feeling physically better after a massage.
As we were leaving the spa, the girl at reception apologised for the lateness of the treatment and gave us a couple of discount vouchers for treatment at any of the Natskin outlets (there just so happens to be one about five minutes from my house).
Feeling so relaxed was a good enough reason for a glass or two of 2011 Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken Chardonnay, a perfect prelude to dinner at Rae’s Restaurant in the Balgownie complex.
A seat by the window, watching the beautiful light show that is the large tree by the road, was the setting.
Dinner was a mixed bag (in a good way). One starter of squid was simply too much squid and the other of scallops; there were just three on the plate and they were tiny. Both dishes were well cooked, tasty, but the size of the serves deserved more thought.
The wine, on the other hand, was perfectly thought out. While there are plenty of good options on Rae’s wine list, it was no contest: the Balgownie Estate 2004 Chardonnay from the Museum Collection. Sure, it was $85 a bottle, but it sang like Ella Fitzgerald. It was everything I love in a chardonnay … and I really love ‘em.
It sat well with the mains too, which were aged beef, one medium rare and one rare, with some (I reckon) hand-cut spuds and veggies.
The (eye fillet) beef arrived at the table under a plate dome. The reason? They were being smoked with (I think) some grape vine cuttings … and it was a masterstroke. The smokiness had attached itself to the beef … shit it was good … and it was the perfect way to end dinner and a great day.
OK, it wasn’t the end … a couple of cognacs delivered by room service made it just so.
Breakfast at Balgownie is a buffet at Rae’s … and there is almost everything you’d ever want at the ungodly hour that is 9.30 … eggs this way and that, bacon, beans, snags, mushrooms, hash browns … juices of all sorts, teas and coffee of all sorts, bread of all sorts for toast, buns, pastries … OK you get the idea. A table by the window didn’t do any harm either.
It was the second trip to Balgownie. Reckon it won’t be the last.

BUTT OUT

It’s into the third week of not smoking for me. Yeah, I’ve done it before but this time is different.
I went to see Angelo, the hypnotist, and said to him: “Mate, this time is different to the others. I really want it more than ever. I’m ready.”
The treatment (dunno if that’s what you call it) was as I remember it … and I went really deeply into it, to the point of the odd snore/snort probably half a dozen times. I apologised for that when it was over but, according to Angelo, it’s normal for those of us that go really deeply.
As I was leaving, I said to Angelo: “Thanks mate. I never want to see you again.” To which he replied: “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I headed home and did what any new non-smoker would do.
I slammed some ice into a glass and poured a couple of huge belts of bourbon, something I’d normally do with a smoke in my hand.
No problems, I didn’t really feel like a smoke.
Undeterred, I headed to Lina’s wine bar and met up with some friends for a gargle, some of whom were partaking of tobacco.
Again, no problems.
Yeah, there has been the odd time when I’ve had a pang when I’ve been up close and personal with a smoker, but I’m not gonna be broken. And the fifty bucks a week that it was costing is going into a jar every week. I can feel a holiday coming on later in the year.
If you’re keen to get a bit healthy, give Angelo a call … 1300 116 117 … apart from being a bloody good bloke, he’s good at what he does.

CHISEL AND JACK

It’s always a good test for ex-smokers to go to a rock concert … I reckon I always used to enjoy that first one when I stepped outside the venue, ears ringing, still feeling the buzz of the music and the buzz from whatever I’d had to drink during same.
With a few mates, I went to watch Cold Chisel last week at Festival Hall … it was great to see the band again and they were in great form after the first couple of songs where, to me, the mix was a bit muddy.
And what to drink when you’ve got Chisel doing their thing … it’s a can a Jack, I reckon … but sweet mother of Jesus, 10 bucks a can is a bit steep. I remember whingeing about paying ten bucks a can in Vanuatu earlier this year.
But hey, it was Chisel. And great news for the band … Barnesy announced that they would be in London in July, touring with Bruce Springstein.
Maybe that smoke money in the jar will get me a ticket.
After the gig, we (my son Joel and mate Fulvio) headed back to my place for a quiet drink (not for Joel) and a debrief of the night.
Given the Fulv and his wife, Jacinta, married to Warrenmang winery in 1997, I thought it appropriate to open a bottle of Warrenmang Grand Pyrenees 1999.
It was a good decision although not without its moments. The cork decided to break up a bit while making its exit, but some careful and dextrous work by yours truly got it out cleanly and poured the precious liquid into a decanter to give it a breath of fresh air … surprisingly there was no sediment.
Bloody good drink it was, although it changed (OK it seemed to) character several times on the way to the bottom of the decanter … spicy, well-rounded, soft and well balanced.
It was very, very good, probably the best drop of late in a wine list that has included some decent drinking:
Among them Te Kairanga Martinborough Estate Pinto Noir 2009; Roland Masse 2010 Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley; Camelback 2010 Pinot Noir from Sunbury; and the beautifully named Lethbridge Menage a Noir 2010 Pinot Noir from Geelong. It’s a cracker drink (about 28 bucks at Vintage Cellars).
For me, the bargain … is that best value … dunno, I just like this one. It’s Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 from the south of Burgundy … it’s the Macon area (I went there many moons ago). The wine is available from Vintage Cellars and at $18 or thereabouts, it’s great drinking.

WHAT A BEER

And speaking of great drinking, reckon I’ve found a beer that’s gonna hard to beat.
Yesterday morning (OK, it was just before noon) I had a taste of three beers at Sword’s wine shop in the South Melbourne Market.
The standout for me was Little Creatures Single Batch The Quiet American in a 568ml bottle. 568ml??? What the hell size is that?
It’s beautifully malty and the hops are huge on the nose … as the brewer says, it’s got a thought-provoking bitterness. I got bundles of green apples on the nose. I grabbed a couple of bottles, one of which I had later in the day after stocking up the freezer with some home-made laksa. (The freezer now has about eight meals of beef and veg casserole, a dozen serves of bolognaise sauce and eight serves of laksa … veg soup will be added today. It’s gonna make those cold winter nights a bit easier.)
A couple of glasses The Quiet American was a beautiful way to see out the afternoon. Seven bucks a bottle, it was worth every cent. Go to this link for a check at what Swords has to offer ... http://www.swordswines.com.au/

A NO-BOUNCE ZONE

And speaking of things glass, it was unfortunate to discover that iPads do not bounce, especially when introduced to a tiled floor. Mind you, the cracks in the glass made a really pretty pattern.
It was $249 to replace the glass. Sheesh.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Slack is as slack does ...

Because I’ve been such a slack unit these past few weeks … OK, that’s not entirely true, I’ve been slack about writing anything for this site ... everything else has been go, go, go … and then some.
Reckon since I last posted I’ve had a lot of dinners, more wines than I can count (I had to write ‘em down), discovered a new but fabulous US beer (yeah, I know that the words fabulous beer and US don’t normally belong in the same sentence), been to a buck’s party that ticked all the boxes, a wedding that ticked all the boxes, cooked some food that even maybe surprised me, jagged tickets to see Cold Chisel, sucked up to one of my editors (yeah, just the two of us working and I made her lunch), totally stuffed my neck, which led to a trip to the physio, which led to a bout of drinking too much too early, seen the hypnotist to stop smoking, proved that even at my age I can still party … to whit, a 5am finish on a Saturday morning and backing up with a 7am the next day (yeah, both those nights involved a drink) … managed a few days in bed with the flu … yep, I has been the full package.
I am planning to expand on some of the comings and goings ... the buck's turn, the wedding, the hypnosis ... that's my target.
Since the last entry on this site, I have managed at home to have a crack at:
Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken Chardonnay 2011 from Pemberton WA. 13%.
Rocland Duck Duck Goose Chardonnay 2009 from SA.
14%
Auldana Reserve non-vintage Sparkling Shiraz 14%
Henschke Tilly’s Vineyard 2010 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc Pinot Gris Riesling Chardonnay 12.5%
Di Giorgio Lucindale Pinot Noir Chardonnay (sparkling) 12.5% from Limestone Coast
Mitcham Estate 2011 Chardonnay 13% McLaren Vale SA
2008 Santa Carolina Chardonnay from Chile (x2)
2010 Provenance Golden Plains Pinot Noir 13.3%
Geelong Chardonnay 2011 cleanskin from Vintage Cellars 13.5%
2004 Clarence Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Kris Pinot Grigio 2010 12.5% from Montagna Italy
La Tour Travers Bordeaux Rose 2010 12% (50% cab sav and merlot)
House of Rabbit 2010 Pinot Noir From Sunbury Ballarat (x3)
Elderton 2004 Barossa Shiraz 14.5%
1882 Reisling
Ass Kisser Vanilla Pale Ale 5.5% (x shitloads … a great beer)
Ingram Pinot Grigio from the Yarra Valley
Te Kairanga 2009 Pinot Noir from Marlborough in NZ. 13.5% (x3)
Roland Masse 2010 Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley
Pepper Tree 2010 Chardonnay 14%
Pepper Tree 2011 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 11.8%
The Riebke Shiraz 2010 14.5%
Curious Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc 13%

Yeah, that’s a fair list, but it has been supplemented with a few here and there at various establishments, but the winner is:
Torbek 2009 The Struie Shiraz. 15%, rrp about $54
It is everything you’ll ever want in a red apart from the fact that the bottle can be emptied, a sad occurrence when you have just the one.
I shared it with a friend and she is not normally a red drinker … OK, her cheeks glow a bit sometimes when she’s had a couple, but I digress.
She loved it, as did I … it’s a bloody crackerjack drink.
I have just booked a weekend away in the Yarra Valley ... I think it may involve wine.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Glory days long gone ... and some decent plonk ... and other stuff

I usually keep a stash of quaffing wine in the kitchen and in the grog fridge, but things have been disappearing at a rate of knots of late. It’s time to stock up again.
So I have dipped into the wine cupboard to keep myself happy of late … and there have been some pleasant surprises.
The biggest surprise was the discovery of another bottle of 2007 Bollini Pinot Grigio Trentino. I’m keeping it for a special occasion. As I wrote on an earlier post, “I’ve seen it described as the “ultimate aperitif wine” … or how about “the fresh, refined style is ideal for frequent, casual consumption”? Frequent? That’s my kind of wine.
It’s fragrant, lively, crisp, fruity, flinty and oh so clean in the mouth. And there’s just enough acid. I reckon it would go well with any sort of food. Without question, for me it was the wine highlight of the week in a week where there were some highlight-worthy beauties on the table.”
The same sentiment still applies … yep plenty of some highlight-worthy beauties.
Among the a 2004 Elderton Shiraz (14.5%), which had a really deep colour, tonnes of fruit on the nose and a bit of a liquorice/peppery thing happening … even vanilla. It was great drinking.
So too the 2011 Waipara Hills Pinot Noir, but the show was stolen by a 2003 Brown Brothers limited release shiraz. I reckon it was a bloody cracker in a week or so where crackers have been on the agenda.
Umani Ronchi Montepulciano 2007 D’Abruzzo was a surprise packet. I read a review of it: “A supple and earthy medium-bodied Italian red that's full of plums, hints of chocolate, nuts and dried herbs and has and attractive slightly floral sting in the tail. Will go superbly well with the Sunday roast, with game. and let's not forget the cheese. Very smart buying." Warren Barton
Because I’m a smoker, my chances of finding all that going on is, well, unlikely … but jeez, I loved it.
There have also been a few chardies around … a 2011 The Seedling from Eden Road, which didn’t quite set my tastebuds on fire … but the fire was burning with a 2010 Camelback chardy from Sunbury. I’d buy it just because of the words across the top of the label … “Man is not a camel”.
The real chardy winner was a 2011 Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken from Pemberton in WA. It’s buttery, nutty, fruity, oaky (plenty but certainly not to its detriment) and a lovely acid balance. I’ll have it again.
I also revisited Domaine Begude 2010 Chardonnay. I wrote a while ago “It’s a bloody cracker, which is my way of saying “Utterly beguiling. Full of flowers, citrus, orchard fruits, and almond, this offers some lushness of texture while remaining bright and refreshing, and displays a shimmering sense of minerality that would be worthy of a Chablis costing three times the price”, which is how Robert Parker’s Bargain Wines Guide 2011 said of the Terroir 11300 chardonnay. It’s available at Vintage Cellars.
It’s all gonna be a hard act to follow. If the next week comes anywhere near the quality of the past couple, then I’ll be one happy camper.
Now, it’s market time and food shopping. I have to take lunch to work tomorrow for EB, my editor at The Weekly Review. Dunno what’s on the menu … guess it’ll be whatever look good.

Glory days are long gone

I started to venture into the wilds of Albert Park in the very late ’80s … somehow I’d managed to find my way there. I was a northern suburbs bloke who had little, OK no, knowledge of the southern suburbs back then.
I used to go there for a Sunday breakfast … a big brekkie was a novelty in the north. OK, a café that did that sort of thing didn’t exist in the north.
The place was called Morning Glory. The food was always good and the coffee was par excellence. It won an award from The Sunday Age as having the best coffee in Melbourne. From memory, I instigated that the judges check it out.
I can even recall being there about 20 years ago and telling a bloke at the next table to put his smoke out … I was in a non-smoking stage. I still talk to him most mornings when I’m wandering up the street, sometimes stopping and to have a smoke with him. Yeah, times change.
The restaurant at the same site claims to be one of the area’s best … specialising in attention to detail and a friendly atmosphere.
Like I said, times change.
I went there with a friend for a late breakfast recently … nothing big planned, just a cuppa and some eggs.
We grabbed a table out the front and ordered a pot of English Breakfast tea, a latte, some water and poached eggs with spinach on the side and a serve of eggs Benedict (on English muffins).
We sat there shooting the breeze for 10 minutes or so (it was a beautiful morning) and finally the waiter appeared again. “Did you get your coffees?”
“Well no, and it was a latte and some tea.”
“Sorry,” he said as he disappeared inside.
Back he came with another sorry. Apparently the paper with the order on it had been lost.
Lost? It’s not that hard, after all, attention to detail is one of the place’s strong points. Yeah, right.
Finally, after a 15-minute wait, we had our drinks.
The latte was as dark as the inside of a dead dog’s guts. It couldn’t have been any stronger. My friend would be bouncing off walls in no time.
And then to the tea. OK, it was fine but the small milk jug left more than a bit to be desired. There were dark smudges around the lip (it needed an up-close-and-personal scrub) and several black bits floating in the milk. Attention to detail?
The food finally made an appearance, but only after the waiter had reappeared earlier to say that the kitchen had run out of muffins. “What sort of toast would you like with that?” I opted for multigrain.
The eggs got a pass mark. Not so the attention to detail. No salt or pepper on the table. My friend asked the waitress who was busily cleaning the next table whether she could have some pepper. It was almost a surly delivery of a pepper grinder, plonked just so on the table, no “sorry about that, there should have been one on the table”. It was almost as if the waitress was doing us a favour.
She went back to cleaning a nearby table, armed with a spray bottle, which probably wasn’t ideal given that there was a bit of wind about. My friend copped the residue of the spray all along her arm. Yep, that’s just what you need, the chance of some chemicals on your food. Attention to detail?
I walked inside (for the first and last time there) to pay the bill, rather than wait for the waiting staff to offer one. In effect, we were the waiters … waiting, waiting …

Golden Fields revisited

There’s a lesson to be learnt for the joint above. They should send all their staff to dine at Golden Fields not just for the great food, but for service that goes above and beyond.
A friend and I had a latish dinner there on Friday. As usual, the place was jumping and we were told that there would probably be a 45-minute wait.
The staff was attentive … constantly getting back to us with updates and organising a seat at the bar (the barman would win an award for politeness) so we could have a pre-dinner drink.
We didn’t feel left out at any stage. Update followed update … just 20 minutes had past when we hit a table out the front (the weather was pleasant). We were settled by the waitress, who said something about my friend being a regular. No so, but it made her feel at home. The waitress said she would get us a menu. “No need,” I said. “We’ll start with lobster rolls, pork dumpling, soft-shell crab and twice-cooked duck … and a bottle of 2010 von Buhl Riesling. We’ll see how we go after that.” No menu, no notes, no need. The waitress knew her stuff.
So too those in the kitchen. I reckon the wine was a cracker with the food (I’ve mentioned it elsewhere on this blog several times).
But it was the staff and the attention to detail. My friend suggested that had it not been for the pleasant demeanour and efficiency of the staff, we would have gone elsewhere, given the possibility of a 45-minute wait. She was right … but it was worth the wait.

Carbon footprint?

Does social media have a conscience? Judging by some figures given to me by my Crikey mate Luke Buckmaster (he of the Crikey film blog Cinetology), the answer is an emphatic no.
To wit … every 60 seconds there are:
2 million YouTube views;
700,000 Facebook messages;
175,000 tweets;
7630 hits on StumbledUpon;
7610 searches on LinkedIn;
3500 hits on TAGGED;
3125 Flikr pictures uploaded;
2000 checkins at FourSquare; and
1090 Pinterest visits.
Think about it: every minute. That amounts to an awful lot of power (courtesy of coal-fired generators, no doubt).
And that’s just the social media sites. Add to that the billions of page hits for other shit on the net.
Is there anyone out there who could extrapolate the figures and work out just how much effect the internet has on global warming? Surely, an academic could snaffle a grant from somewhere.

The son shines

And while on the subject of things involving technology, getting my iPod up to speed was not something I could cope with.
The iPod hadn’t been synched with my new laptop (I had to get a newie because I spilled wine on the keyboard of the old one … See “A byte to drink” elsewhere on the blog) and it was beyond me, given that I’m a Luddite.
I had dinner with Joel, my youngest son, and put it on him to fix it.
“No problem.”
He somehow managed to copy the 11,000-odd songs from the iPod and another 2000-odd from the separate hard drive (see, I know technology terms, just not how it works) and synched them for me.
I owe my whole wireless set-up to Joel … the printer in the office, the router (whatever that does), the home network (whatever that is) … the whole shooting match.
Go Jo-Jo, you’re a gun.

The wrong way to catch a bus

My other son, Liam, he of Vanuatu, has had a rough time of it of late.
The other day he was cruising on a motor scooter through Port Vila at lunchtime.
He was travelling behind a bus and could see another sitting at the kerb. When the bus in front went by the parked one, the driver put on his indicator and pulled a U-turn. Liam saw him coming and hit the anchors. Too late, he T-boned the bus.
He was OK, a bunged up ankle and maybe a broken finger and a cut hand.
“I hope you were wearing a helmet,” I said.
“Shit yeah and lucky I was. I took a big chunk out of it,” he said, “but I’m OK.”
And the scooter? “Yeah, I managed to get myself between it and the bus, so as I gave a hip and shoulder to the duco, the scooter was OK. There’s just a bit of a bend in the handlebar.
“The driver was pretty pissed off. He said ‘didn’t you see I was indicating?’. I explained that indicating didn’t give you the right to charge out into a U-turn.”
“I told him to fuck off after he suggested that he would see me in court.”
Yeah, good luck with that

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It’s easy being green

For several weeks now I’ve been eyeing off the sometimes hard-to-get ingredients … green mangos and green pawpaws among them … at my usual fruit and veg bloke at the market.
At the weekend, I thought damn it; it’s time to make a green mango salad with prawns for dinner. I checked the pantry to make sure I had the ingredients … OK, I’d run out of fish sauce, sesame oil and fresh garlic … so I made a list … Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, rice noodles, bean shoots, limes, roasted peanuts, coriander and tiger prawns … oh, and a green mango or two. Done.
I wandered around the fruit shop gathering the goodies, but bugger me, no green mangos or pawpaws for that matter.
I got to the checkout and the bloke said: “Back again.” Yep. “Have you got any green mangos?” I asked, figuring that because there were plenty of ripe mangos of varying quality dotted around the shop, he’d say yeah, over there or something like that. “Season’s over,” he said. Bugger.
Off I went to the last-chance saloon … aka the Chinese grocery, where I’m a regular. “Got any green mangos?”
“Sorry, no more but we have green pawpaws.” Done. It was gonna be the sort of recipe that I’d make up as I went along anyway.
I got all I needed and made a beeline to Swords wine shop to see if the new chardonnay and pinot noir had made an appearance.
“Not yet, they’re still in the warehouse.”
Sheesh.
I was keen to reacquaint myself with both after David, the manager, had gifted me a bottle of each to try.
The pinot, under Swords’ label The House of Rabbit, is a very drinkable wine (aren’t they all?) from up Sunbury way.
The label says cherries, plums and brambles on the nose. I get it with the cherries and plums, but does anyone know what brambles smell like? I’ll take their word for it. For me there was also a chocolate and oaky thing happening. There’s acidity enough (it’s 12.5 per cent alcohol) and soft tannins (I like that) to round it out. I seem to remember that it’ll be a sub-20 buck wine, something I’d happily pay again and again.
The chardy? A review for another day.
I had a chat with Dave about what would go well with my green pawpaw salad and riesling won the day.
Given the option of dry or something with a bit of fruity sweetness, I went for sweet … 2008 Rockface Riesling from Waipara Valley across the ditch in New Zealand.
I bought the prawns (I asked for eight because they were a decent size) and the market was done … OK, I bought a new wok on the way out.
Seasoning the wok (it’s a steel wok, not one of those new-fangled non-stick things) was easy. A thorough scrub with warm veg oil and a scourer, and then it was onto the stove to heat it until the oil started to smoke. (I rolled one at this stage, so I smoked too). Turn off the heat, let it cool and then fire it up again. Three times is enough to be ready to wok’n’roll (yeah, piss-weak joke, I know).
Hunger started to kick in after watching the rugby league season opener … go Storm, who made hard work of putting away the Canberra Raiders.
First up I made the dressing … fresh lime juice, fish sauce, vegetable oil, palm sugar, chilli (reckon I put a tad too much. No matter.), garlic and black pepper. It’s wise to taste as you build. My only change was a touch more lime juice. I also deep-fried some garlic chips.
To ready the pawpaw, I peeled it and then hacked into it with a cleaver, each cut as close to the last as I could manage. Then I used a vegetable peeler to cut away the shreds. Too easy.
While the prawns (I got 12) were cooking in the garlic chip oil with chilli, I assembled the salad.
Pawpaw, some rice noodles (soaked in boiling water), bean shoots, garlic chips, Vietnamese mint, Thai basil, coriander, roughly crushed roasted peanuts and deep-fried shallots. Again, too easy.
When the prawns were ready, in they went followed by the dressing. A good toss (a lot of people reckon I’m a tosser anyway) and it was show time.
Bloody go show it was, too. I held back on the riesling while I was eating … the chilli was a bit heavy-handed and wasn’t doing the wine any favours.
When my tastebuds had settled, I had a decent crack at the riesling, a medium-bodied wine that had some citrus up front and for my liking, just a little too much in the way of sweetness, which wasn’t really such a bad thing after the chilli assault. It’s a pleasant enough drink, but not one that I’d rush to try again. Maybe it would work well with a cheese board or even with a dessert.
Given there’s a couple of pieces of eye fillet in the fridge, I may double up with a green pawpaw and rare beef salad in a couple of days. Sounds like a plan.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hair, an eight-minute pasta wonder and the wonder of wine

My blog Mick on the Road (there’s a link just down the page a bit on the right) was compiled during 10 months on the road. The trip ended about two years ago and I’ve added nothing to it since … but still, it seems, it has regular readers every day.
I reread the whole thing a week or so ago and relived the trip, and the bloody good time it was.
Same thing applies to this blog. It’s still getting plenty of page hits daily despite me pulling the pin on it a couple of weeks ago. It’s heading towards 10,000 hits.
So I reckoned, bugger it, let’s get back on the horse.
I was gonna detail my Landcruiser ute today and put it on the interweb thing to try and sell it (anyone wanna buy a good Landcruiser? …an ’05 version that has done just 110,000 kilometres).
Anyway, rain won the order of the day … no car cleaning … and rather than immerse myself in housework (OK, I’ll do it later), I thought, bugger it, let’s blog.
I mean, there’s been some good times and great rock’n’roll since I last put pen to paper ... and the odd breakthrough.
Talking of same, the world of haircuts is, for me, a real breakthrough. After having two haircuts in 3½ years … yeah, there’s still the urge to retain my ’60s hippie roots (hair that is, not any of the women I met way back then) … I’ve been to the hairdresser twice in six weeks.
I’ve been going to the same bloke since 1975 and although he was never gonna get rich with me as a customer, we’re still good mates. He is, however, hard to nail down … he doesn’t work on Friday afternoons, which is the only time I’m free from work.
He will hang around for me though, if I bring wine.
Yep, blackmailed by the hairdresser.
I arrived at his joint last weekend and he bolted out the front door as I parked the car. “Did you bring wine?” was the offering, not a how are you or whatever.
“Yeah, there’s wine.”
“OK, roll me a smoke (he never has any) and I’ll get some glasses. Then we’ll cut the hair.”
The wine was a 2009 Les Nuages Touraine Sauvignon Blanc from Loire and it got the hairdresser’s nod of approval. As it should.
On the nose, it’s got nothing of the huge sav blanc aroma of the Kiwi kind (some of them are like using smelling salts). This is pretty laid back, a little bit spicy and with a bit of fruit. It’s actually really fresh in the mouth.
“This is better than the wine you brought a few weeks ago,” he said as he poured his second glass (just the one for me, I’m driving).
Yeah, right.
As he poured his third, he said: “I don’t think we’ll do the colour thing (yeah, I hide the greys … OK, I found a dark on the other day. Sure, it’s a vanity thing). I reckon it’s OK.”
Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.
“Listen, you will do the colour thing. You just want to piss off and drink with your friends, that’s why you don’t want to do it.”
“You know me well,” he said. “Well do the colour thing. Now roll me a smoke while I mix up some stuff.”
OK, it’s cut and coloured. All he needs to do is some thin plaits to tidy up the rat’s tail he’s left at the back (yeah I asked for it).
“I don’t do plaits.”
“OK.” I was heading to the market later to buy some food … there’s a hairdresser there. Someone there will do it. And they did.
“See you in six weeks. And don’t forget to bring wine.”
Done. That’ll be the day before my friend Andrew’s wedding, so, for once, I’ve got the timing right on something.

BEER THERE, DONE THAT


Reckon I’ve been off the hops (apart from the occasional one) for about 10 months now. It’s all about the weight thing. Seems every time I have a beer, it sticks to me, so in those 10 months I’ve managed to drop nine kilograms. So it’s bye bye beer.
Mind, I was in Swords wine shop recently to see if the new chardonnay had arrived. It hadn’t. I had my usual chat with Dave, who runs the place, and was just about to leave when I spied some La Trappe Dubbel Trappistenbier.
“What’s the deal with that, mate? Is it a good drop?”
Sensational was Dave’s verdict.
“Righto,” I said, “I’ll have one.” Given that it is 20 bucks for one longneck, one was enough … but it was stinkin’ hot and it was to be a treat. And the glass (reckon it pings like crystal) was included in the price.
And what a treat.
It’s a deep red-brown Trappist beer and smells of caramel malt, and is a tad (how much officially is a tad? sweet. The head is thicker than an English soccer hooligan. It’s 7 per cent alcohol, which means that one longneck really is enough. The recommended pouring temperature is 10-14º. Dunno what mine was when I cracked it, other than bloody brilliant.
Reckon if summer somehow manages to re-manifest itself in Melbourne, I’ll have another.
By the by, longnecks are known as king browns in the bush, something I learnt while I was on the road.
So there.

EIGHT MINUTES TO GLORY

I was watching Anthony Bourdain the other night. He was in Rome and doing his food thing. That’s why I watch, I guess.
Anyway, he was served a pasta dish (yeah, OK, it was Rome) that is going to be a regular on my menu for several reasons … it’s quick, simple, tasty and there’s bugger all washing up to do.
I boiled (in well-salted water) enough spaghetti for one and while that was doing its thing, I melted a stick of butter (not margarine please, this is about flavour) and lobbed a handful of ground black pepper into it. Then I grated about a cup (or thereabouts) of 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano. I tossed the spag into the butter, coated it and then stirred through the cheese. Dinner was done and dusted. And let me tell you, it doesn’t get a lot easier or tastier for that matter.

AND OTHER STUFF

I managed for, I reckon, the fifth or sixth time to have a degustation dinner at Eis, my favourite Japanese restaurant.
It’s still great value … eight courses and five wines (it’s now $120 a head.
A starter of a fresh oyster shot with mint vodka, sliced chilli and wasabi tobiko, some ocean trout carpaccio with basil pesto and a glass of Louis Boillot Champagne from Bourgogne.
While starters don’t get a lot better, the beef tartare that followed was close.
The quality didn’t wane … but I reckon that’s it for the degustation. The menu has changed just once (from memory) and, while it’s not tired or anything, next time I’m there I’ll be ordering from the menu.
As for fruit of the vine, there have been many and varied being popped at my joint of late.
To wit, Domaine Begude2010 Chardonnay. It’s a bloody cracker, which is my way of saying “Utterly beguiling. Full of flowers, citrus, orchard fruits, and almond, this offers some lushness of texture while remaining bright and refreshing, and displays a shimmering sense of minerality that would be worthy of a Chablis costing three times the price”, which is how Robert Parker’s Bargain Wines Guide 2011 said of the Terroir 11300 chardonnay. It’s available at Vintage Cellars.
Oh, and there was a Spaniard in the works, too. Bajondillo Mentrida Toledo tempranillo/merlot . It’s the sort of wine you could drink with anything … or nothing. I loved it.
As I did the Jim Barry 2006 First Eleven Cabernet Sauvignon. Being the cricket tragic that I am, I’ll try any drink that links to the great game. This cabernet would get a game in my first eleven.
Maybe 12th man (and not because it’s out of form) in my team would be Wild Rock Cupid’s Arrow 2009 pinot noir. I’ve been having a real crack at pinot and I’d probably have a go at this again. It’s fruity and herby, although the 14.5 alcohol (for me) was a bit on the sharp side.
During the absence of blogging, there have been a few other wines that have passed my lips. I used to keep a list of what I drank but gave it up with the blogging.
OK, it’s back to making lists ... and blogging.
Now it's off to the market to get some ingredients to make a green mango salad.
Cheers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The last post

For the second time in a few months, my email account has been blocked (from my access) and hacked. It cost me time and money (too much on both counts) to get it fixed.
It got me to thinking, enough is enough. A few years ago, I canned the internet at home and went without for six months … and I didn’t miss it.
This time, I’m not getting rid of the internet (OK I do have to check the lottery numbers), but I am putting a few things on ice (preferably Scotch, bourbon or some such), starting with Twitter (I gave up Facebook years ago and don’t miss it a jot) and this blog.
It’s been a bit of fun along the way, but I’m at that stage in life where I should be doing shit that’s less like work and more like the things I’ve been writing about.
It’s been a tough gig sometimes … I get very few comments or reactions (thanks to those who did take the time) and not so much as one offering of a contribution, maybe all tell-tale signs that what I’m writing isn’t of that much interest other than to me … and support from just a few friends in promoting it … thanks.
Thanks for reading the ramblings of a sometimes grumpy man … maybe down the track we’ll meet again on this site. Who knows?
Anyway, that’s it. I’m going for a drink. See ya.