66 shades of grey

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


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


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

the rock

the rock

oodnadatta track

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


My photo
G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The beast is gearing up for a trip

The car is in probably better shape than its owner (a week of shitty flu will do that) as the countdown to the big trip looms ever closer.
My LandCruiser is looking like an absolute beast right now … new Sunraysia rims with all-terrain BF Goodrich feet, a new canvas canopy (under which I can sleep should the need arise), a new heavy-duty roof rack (on which I can sleep should the need arise) with a high-lift jack and shovel bolted to the side, an alarm system (when it goes off I could not sleep), a new multimedia system that is a GPS, a music system (I have 25,000 songs on my iPod), a hands-free phone system, a net surfer, email system, two USB ports … OK, it does everything but make a cup of tea.
I’ve also added to the collection of must-haves: MaxTracks for getting out of boggy situations, a hand-cranked washing machine (ya gotta have clean undies), a CryoVac machine to keep food fresh for longer, a hot-water system and shower tent (no point being dirty if you’re putting on clean undies), the list goes on. And talking of lists, I’m in the throes of making one for what to pack … two columns per A4 page and I’ve filled three pages. Right down to toenail clippers (yeah, I’ve got a good knife, but you know, a little luxury goes a long way).
There’s (at this stage) just a couple more purchases to make … a recovery kit and an extra spare wheel. And I have plans to get a gun licence. No ulterior motive there … just something to be a safeguard should a big lizard (read saltwater croc) get frisky and too close for comfort. And, I guess, there’s always the possibility of hitting wildlife with the car (let’s hope not) and if it’s not dead, it would have to be put out of its misery. Other than that, should I break down in the middle of nowhere for an extended period and food is running short, then I’d take the gun shopping for some tucker.  
The biggest and best news is that my eldest son, Liam, is hitting the road with me. Given that he’s a builder, he’ll no doubt get plenty of work along the way. He’s working his arse off at the moment to get a stash of cash behind him so we can indulge in the good life on the road, and indulge we will. I’ve been working my way through the wine in the cupboard and have plans to take just a couple of bottles with us, one being a 1990 Grange Hermitage (which is listed at about 800 bucks a bottle in the cheapie wine shops), which will be about as indulgent as we can get. You get the picture … middle of nowhere, dinner cooked over a fire, nice glasses and a bottle of Grange. Bring it on.
I’ve just bought a domain name … mickeypedia.com.au … which will be the new home of this blog once I get the site designed and up and running. I’ve spoken to good mate Luke Buckmaster, Crikey’s resident film critic and web know it all (I mean that it a good way), and he’s agreed to do the work to get me up and running.
I recently headed out to dinner with my friend Julia and some of her friends. Julia’s tall … she’s on the plus side of six feet tall and could hunt ducks with a garden rake … and a great foodie, a great cook for that matter. We nabbed tickets for a Greg Malouf dinner at the West Beach Bathers Pavilion on the bay … and not too far from home. It was labelled as a Middle Easter banquet and the menu included, on arrival:
Little cheesy pies with black Turkish chillies
Crunch oysters with green harissa
Sultan’s eggplant delight with brik shards (brik is a Tunisian dish consisting of thin warka pastry)
They were all washed down with a Turkish delight cocktail, a bit too sweet for me, so I made do with the bottle of Bell Amie pinot, one of quite a few that we cracked on the night.
Oh, and there was some camel racing on the beach. I had a good chat to my jockey, a girl who was aboard a camel for the first time. I told her that her mount was my preference. “What’s in it for me,” she asked.  I told her that if she won, I’d share a bottle of bubbles with her. “You’re on,” she said. Close, but no cigar. She came third (OK, there were just three camels racing).
Once the camels were done, we settled into our table of 11 and I was the only bloke … some would say a weed in a garden of roses. Then came the mains:
Quail wrapped in vine leaves with Lebanese-style white cabbage salad
King prawns in parmesan, egg and coriander batter
Burrata (which is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture) with dukkah, baby beets and ox heart tomatoes
Roast, milk-fed lamb with oregano and lemon
Organic chickpea-pumpkin tagine with almond couscous
Whole salmon “Tarator style” walnuts, coriander and yoghurt tahini
Salad-e Shirazi with edible flowers
And then there were desserts.
Lemon curb baklava, orange Turkish delight and candied pinenuts
Watermelon, strawberries, rose syrup and pistachio halvah
Yeah, it was quite a feed although the absolute standout was the candied pinenuts followed closely by the company and the many bottles of pinot .
I got three offers of a place to crash, all near the beach on Mornington Peninsula, when I return to Melbourne. Good thing, that.
It was bloody freezing when we left the beach and Julia and I did the only sensible thing. We went back to my place and cracked a bottle of Moet. Yeah it was a good way to end the night.
I reckon, without question, the best thing to pass my lips recently was a bottle of Poet’s Corner Henry Lawson 1997 cab-sav from the wilds of Mudgee, closely followed by a 2010 Petaluma riesling, which had more body than Elle. Then there was a 2012 Sancerre Roc de l’Abbaye and a 2006 Blackets pinot from the Adelaide Hills.
At the office, we’ve got a bit of a Tuesday tradition up and running.
We all, after consultation, bring home-cooked meals (sometimes we cook in the office) and have a big spread.
We had a curry day … lamb curry (my recipe is below), fish curry, veg curry, chicken curry by two, salads, naan, pappadams and sundry chutneys, pickles etc … the an Italian day, with Bianca’s fantastic meatballs, salads and Momma Lasagne’s (OK, it’s Anna) homemade cannelloni, Jane’s super home-baked haloumi bread and then a huge tray of tiramisu. We’ve also had an English lunch … (another) Jane’s shepherd’s pie, roast potatoes, veg of all sorts and a huge wine trifle with ice-cream. Yeah, Tuesday at the office is not doing anything good for anyone’s waistline.
Herbie Mills in Middle Park has become my new breakfast haunt … and with good reason. My friend Ben, the opera singer, is part-owner and a great host. My favourite is poached eggs, on multigrain toast, smoked salmon with a quenelle of horseradish cream and a tomato, cress and quinoa salad, washed down with English Breakfast tea (made with real leaves, not a teabag). I had breakfast there recently with a friend (she’s in the food industry) and she said it was one of the best brekkies she’d had.
High praise indeed.
Herbie also has live music on Sunday arvo, with a Mauritian-inspired menu and a decent wine list. There are also plans afoot to host an afternoon of opera. I’ll be there.
And speaking of high praise, someone said to me recently before we went out to breakfast: “You know what, Michael, for a man of your (ahem) advanced years, you have a beautiful bottom.” She was stroking it at the time. Who doesn’t enjoy a compliment every now and then? I know I do.

Monday, October 21, 2013

When fast-food becomes farce food

There are misnomers and there are misnomers.
This blog is a bit of a misnomer. Blogs, by nature, have regular contributions, so I’m led to believe. To those who read this regularly and dare I say it, expect something fresh to read occasionally, I apologise. I plead the time-poor argument. OK, that’s bullshit. I get easily distracted. I keep meaning to put pen to paper, alas, distractions prevail.
Anyway, as George Costanza would say, “Baby, I’m off my arse, I’m back for another crack”. OK, maybe not the arse bit, but you get the picture.
Now back to the misnomer bit.
I’ve been getting lots of things done to prepare my LandCruiser for the big trip, most recently getting an alarm system installed, which necessitated a trip again to the wilds of Moorabbin/East Bentleigh.
Given that I had to fill in three hours while the work was being done, and it was lunchtime, I made a beeline to the only food outlet (and, on my experience there, I use the term loosely) within walking distance, Hungry Jack’s, which is something that rarely happens.
Ah, Jack, what a contradiction you are, a misnomer, if you will.
There wasn’t a big crowd in … think about enough people to fill four, maybe five, phone boxes (do we still have them?)
I fitted in well, being one of a couple of blue singlet-wearing patrons, although we were outnumbered by tracksuit pants and Ugg boots. Oh, and there was a bloke with no shirt. I said g’day to a bloke who works at the place doing the work on my car and he dropped the first hint. “Get set for a wait,” he said.
I eyed the menu above the counter and settled for a premium (no, seriously, it says premium) tender crisp chicken burger/bacon/cheese meal and a large serve of onion rings … that is, I thought, a burger, fries, a drink and said rings. I ordered, clearly and concisely and paid. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I waited some more. I said g’day to another bloke from the car shop. He, too, dropped a hint. “Get set for a wait.”
By the way, the company’s website describes said meal as: “The unbeatable combination of bacon, cheese and golden crispy chicken. Made with 100% chicken breast, premium eye bacon, ripe hand-cut tomato, fresh lettuce and creamy mayo on a tasty corn-dusted bun.” This is what it looks like on the web.

My wait had become 15 minutes during which time four disgruntled patrons returned things that weren’t what they had ordered. That’s right, about one every four minutes returned and replaced (eventually).
Finally, at the 20-minute mark, my order was mentioned by a rather harassed-looking young fella. I made my way to the counter and was greeted by a burger wrapped in paper with some handwritten ID (I assumed the CB indicated crispy bacon or perhaps it was code for crap burger. Yeah, that’d be it). It was a wrapper for another type of burger … obviously the stock of wrappers had gone the way of so many food orders. Alongside the burger was a bag of onion rings. That was it except for the empty drink cup. I should have burred up, and I really felt like I should, but I was at that stage where I just wanted the experience to end. I picked up the tray and then said, in a very polite voice, to a girl behind the counter: “Excuse me, but it’s called fast-food for a reason. A 20-minute wait is just unacceptable.” She said nothing and offered only what could best be described as a very hurt expression.
Another misnomer. I unwrapped the wrong-wrapper burger and looked for the bacon. No appearance, your worship. Wait, there it is. Any similarity between the premium chicken burger you’ll find on the company’s website and this one is purely accidental. This is what I was served.
As I was eating this thing (yeah, I was hungry), the bloke for the car shop came over, armed with his takeaway order. “I cracked the 30-minute wait,” he said.
I can only assume that the business was named Hungry Jack’s because, after you’ve place an order, you’re really, really hungry by the time you get it. And then it’s wrong, you return it and wait again, by which time you’re really, really, really hungry.  Fast-food … now that’s a real misnomer at this Hungry Jack’s.
I intended to forward this account to Hungry Jack’s head office and keep tabs on how long it took to get a reply. The company website rejected my attempt to send it because of, apparently, bad language …. I assume the word “crap” offended Jack’s spam filter. Sorry, Jack, but I refused to change it because it seemed an apt descriptor.   


I was watching telly the other night and as something was about to start, the ratings warning flashed onto the screen. “This program may contain bad language and sexual references.”
What does “may contain” mean?
Either it does or it doesn’t have offensive bits. It may also contain nuclear waste, crispy bacon, too much salt or corked wine, too, but they never tell you that. Get it right, will ya.


I was at the local market (there’s a surprise) the other day to stock up on some food bits and I made a beeline for the deli to grab, among other things, a slab of flat pancetta that was to be a mainstay of a pasta-dominated week.
The woman behind the counter, to whom I chat regularly, said after she’d got my goodies together: “Have you tried this new smoked speck? It’s Australian. I’ll cut you some.” I hadn’t tried it and she proceeded to whip off six good slices for which there was no charge.
I shared it over a glass of wine on my front verandah with my friend, Julia, the foodie. “It’s very good,” she said. God I love the South Melbourne Market.
Julia is a great friend, who said to me “I know you’re really going [the big trip] but you can always use my house as your Melbourne base whenever you come back. There’s plenty of room in my garage, too, if you need to store anything.” She’s a very good friend.
In a couple of weeks, we’re off to dinner for a spring carnival adventure under a big top on the St Kilda foreshore. The food is by Greg Malouf, which will be spectacular. Oh, and there’s also something called a Turkish Delight cocktail, doubtless some excellent wine and camel racing on the beach. Bring it on.
And speaking of wine/s, there has been a shitload pass my lips since I last deigned to write something here.
To go with the first pasta of the week, I chose the Deakin Estate viognier, a full-bodied beast that sits well with me. I bought a mixed case of six viognier with six Heathcote shiraz from the Wine Box Warehouse to be my quaffers. A good decision, that.
The pasta was a cracker. After dry-frying some pine nuts, I cut the pancetta into lardons and pan-fried it until it was crisp. There was plenty of tasty fat as a result, which, with some extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped garlic and a splash of pasta water, would be the sauce. Then I shredded some silverbeet and tossed it in with the spaghetti for the last 60 seconds of the cooking process. I combined it all and the added a huge dollop of mascarpone and some cracked pepper. I ate and drank well.
It’s hard to keep tabs on just what has passed my lips of late.
My local Vintage Cellars has had a special for a while … two bottles of Paringa Estate pinot for 50 bucks, a great price given that its somewhere between $33-$38 a bottle. I’ve bought two lots. There may be more. OK, there will be more.
Also on the wine list of late at Chateau Mick:
·    ·   2010 Darling Park Chardonnay
·   2010 Chateau Tahbilk shiraz
·   2012 Sanguine Estate Progeny Shiraz
·   2011 Willow Creek Pinot (I prefer the 2010, which is an absolute cracker)
·   2009 M Chapoutier Domaine Touron Shiraz or Syrah
·   2011 Reserve Mont-Redon Cotes du Rhone
·   2011 Cosme Palacio Rioja
·   2011 Les Vignes De Bila-Haut
·   2012 Ingoldby Shiraz
·   A super beer called Hopi-Nator from Holgate
·   2011 Jean Reverdy La Reine Blanche Sancerre (amazing)
·   2010 Baileys of Glenrowan Petite Sirah
·   Caudillo Tempranillo (can’t remember the vintage
·   2009 Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz
·   2012 D’Angelo Lady Chardonnay
·   A Spanish white called Inedito Blanco
·   2012 Bourgogne Aligole
·   Vignoble Gibault Sauvignon
·   Dopmaine Charles Audoin  Bourgogne
·   Inedito Rioja
·   2011 Bourgogne Les Taupes Maison Dieu
·   I reckon there are some more that slipped through the cracks, but them’s the breaks … although the favourite pre-dinner pint of Campari and soda did have pride of place several times on the kitchen bench during cooking.
Like I said earlier, distractions are the main reason I don’t write here as often as I should. Pleasant distractions though.
And speaking of drinks, my son, Liam, said to me recently: “What about a couple of beers before dinner at the Albert Park Hotel. It’s a nice night and we can sit outside.”
We grabbed a table out the front of the pub (yeah, we both smoke) and he went inside and ordered two schooners of Carlton Draught. He came back $15 lighter in the pocket.
Yes. It was a nice night and we had two each, but 15 bucks?
I got home and told the pub on Twitter to shove it fair up its clacker. Two Carlton Draughts for $15. Jesus wept … and yes, he’s still crying over it.


Roll on the weekend when I take the LandCruiser to have a canopy fitted, with supports for a roof rack, which I have ordered for a very good price, along with a high-lift jack and shovel kit. It’s a 4WD warehouse in Campbellfield and the prices there are fabulously cheap.
While I was in the area, I checked out Terry, the bloke who built my camper-trailer. I hadn’t seen him for three years. It was great to catch up and suss out where he’s going with his business, which, from what he said, it very well.
I mentioned that I have a small tear in the canvas and he kindly gave me a large piece to patch it. He’s a good man is Terry.


I also took time out to go to a wine launch held in an art gallery near the office. It was a company called Naked Wines … and there were about a dozen and a half wines on taste.
After being stood up by my friend, Emily (she had work commitments), I wandered along and took in the tastes. I reckon I got a bit worried when I tasted what was supposed to be The Diamond Shiraz from Jen Pfeiffer in Rutherglen. “Sorry,” she said, “but we got the label wrong. It’s merlot.”

Out of all of them, I didn’t really find a wine that I would buy by choice. The finger-food was good though, especially the Peking Duck and the beef sliders.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mornington ride ... pinot bound

If ever you were going to have a local, you'd want it to be like the Mornington Peninsula. What a perfect locale for a local ... and it lends itself to alliteration: peninsula, pinot, peace, perfect plentiful produce, pinot, pleasant people, pinot. You get the drift. Did I mention pinot?
As a getaway, it doesn't get a lot better ... not too far from the big smoke, but far enough to embrace all of the above and then some. And tasting the many wines on offer was a great portent of things to come for when the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association brought its best to Melbourne for the annual roadshow (more on that later). Oh, and a goodly dose of fresh air is a bonus. My trip for the weekend was as a guest of the association.
Your head spins (I imagine it's like being in The Exorcist) as you drive through the region ...  so many cellar doors, restaurants, produce outlets, great views ... you name it, it seems to be there ... OK, even the occasional glass blower. And, of course, beautiful greenery/scenery every which way you look.
My GPS is seemingly from another century (OK, it is), hence I got lost. I phoned Lindenderry at Red Hill, which was to be my home for the weekend, misdialled by a digit and connected with a local woman (it was the first time in a fair while that I'd connected in any way with a woman), who was only too happy to set me on the path to its door. It turns out that I was on the right track anyway, just a couple of hundred metres off course. What a pleasant woman.
I parked out the front of the impressive complex, wandered in and front office manager Damien greeted me like a long-lost brother and then gave me a rundown on all things Lindenderry before opening my gift of a bottle of 2008 Lindenderry Reserve Pinot. "You look as if you'd enjoy one of these," he said. What a treat, what a welcome. What a magnificent first drop for what was to be a weekend of magnificent drops.
The room was huge, beautifully furnished and finished. The view from the king-sized bed through the wall of windows looked out to the wilds of the estate (OK wilds is maybe overstating it), with water from a dam and a lake, home to seemingly a million croaking frogs (if you can have birdsong, then why not frogsong?) and assorted birdlife - including a couple of huge, white resident geese - breaking up the greenery. What a view.
I did the sensible thing (not) on the way to the peninsula when I stopped to get petrol. Given that I hadn't has a smoke for a couple of weeks, buying a pack and a lighter wasn't what I wanted to do, but I did anyway ... after all I would be on it a bit (OK a lot) for most of the weekend and I was sure that cravings would do their thing. Shit, I enjoyed the first one out on the balcony before it was time to get ready for dinner. 
And what better preparation for dinner than a soak in a really deep spa, its jets pounding away to relieve all the pent-up bodily anger that had manifested thanks to the abysmal snarls traffic getting out of Melbourne.
Suitably tubbed and scrubbed (and yeah, I put on a clean T-shirt), the Linden Tree Restaurant, under chef Phillip Edwards (he trained under Herman Schneider at Two Faces) beckoned and delivered in spades.
A shot glass of (nicely hot) sweet corn and basil soup got the tastebuds doing their thing. Then, a starter of  seared scallops, lobster tortellini, sautéed shitake and enoki mushrooms, asparagus, tarragon and mushroom veloute, enjoyed while sitting with Damien (he was my dinner companion for the night given that I couldn't find anyone to accompany me for the weekend) alongside a gorgeous open fire was a cracker. Mains upped the ante: oven-roasted Flinders Island lamb rump, cooked to pink, moist perfection and served with stinging nettle and pea puree, confit potatoes and shallots and some sautéed green beans on the side. A glass or two of shiraz helped the cause, not that the meal needed any help.
After dinner, I did the sensible thing and retired to my room, put on the footy on the TV, and finished the most-excellent Lindenderry Reserve Pinot. It certainly helped the cause in terms of a good, no great, night's sleep.
I don't reckon there are too many better ways of starting a day than on the balcony with a good cup of tea, a smoke and the aforementioned birdlife, frogsong, beautiful views and fresh air.
Brekkie beckoned at about nine, so I headed for the restaurant and tucked in to the buffet ... a fruit platter,  bacon, eggs and some super-tasting mushrooms, toast and a pot of tea was a great before hitting the road to Montalto, where I was due to be tasting at 10am.
For a change, the GPS got it right and pretty soon I was parking the car at the magnificent Montalto vineyard.
The view down the hill, across hectares of vines, lawns dotted with all sorts of sculptures to the wetlands was worth the price of admission.

The vegetable garden, when it's in full flight must be a sight to behold ... it was in a winter sort of hiatus and still looked spectacular, not to mention supplying goodies of all sorts for the menu.
I made myself known to Justin behind the bar and launched into a tasting of eight or so of the winery's finest, including a couple of single-vineyard chardonnays ... who said chardy's best days were past it? Elevenses took on a meaning of its own with the Eleven series chardonnays ... winemaker Simon Black’s summation: “Pale straw with green hues. Lemon, lime, tangerine and grapefruit combine with floral and mineral notes by way of slate and flint. Creamy aromas fuse with hints of almond, anise and oyster shell. There is subtle oak influence by way of coffee and hazelnuts with hints of struck match. The palate has a tight citrus focus balanced with some white stone fruits including nectarine. There is remarkable tension here and a long and focused palate with good mid-palate structure and oak tannins. Creamy mouth feel from both oak handling and lees influence adds richness through to the long nutty finish.” Me, I would have said “bloody fantastic”.
And just for the record, given that I was driving and that it went against the grain, I spat.
Justin explained that during the warmer weather, the vineyard packed hampers for guests to picnic down in the wetlands. That's certainly on my agenda before I depart the state.
I had a packed agenda for the weekend, courtesy of PR woman Betsy Pie, so pretty soon I was back on the road, bound for Willow Creek where the chardonnay, courtesy of diminutive and talented winemaker Geraldine McFaul,  took centre stage (it was a starring role) for lunch at the splendid, view-endowed Salix Restaurant, with the equally splendid Karina, the Willow Creek marketing manager. 
Weight gain for the weekend was always on the agenda given my food intake. Pan-fried veal, mushrooms, artichoke and a side of potatoes with rainbow chard was sufficient to sustain me before Karina's tour of the inner workings of Willow Creek, including the special tasting room and the mega-impressive barrel room.
She's a great woman (also a friend of Julia, my friend from down that way).
During lunch we solved a few of the world's problems and got on like a house on fire. It was too soon time to hit the road again, but not before Karina gave me a bottle of chardy and a bottle of pinot gris to enjoy back at home.
Fortunately, my agenda had a few hours of R&R before my next dinner date, so an afternoon nap beckoned ... it worked.
Pretty soon, I was back in the spa, armed with a glass of pinot, and relaxing post-nap, before I put on my glad rags and greeted my chauffeur for the night.
If you’re in the area and tasting, it can be made so much easier if you have a designated driver. In my case when I had to travel for dinner, it was Chris Gregory, of Your Shuttle. She’s a local and loves the area. “Everyone should visit here at least four times a year,” she said in reference to the seasons.
She is a splendid woman, who arrived on time and spirited me to Paringa Estate, home of some of the area's best pinots (its restaurant got its first hat in The Age Good Food Guide a couple of weeks after I visited) for dinner with the owner and winemaker, Lindsay McCall.
Lindsay makes some of the world’s best pinots (ask cricket great Ian Botham if you’re in doubt. Beefy’s a regular customer). He (McCall, not Botham) was a great dinner companion. Great and dinner go hand in hand here: chef Julian Hills (ex-Courthouse Hotel, North Melbourne) is to food what McCall is to winemaking. It was a new menu and triumphant. Lindsay started with wallaby, me a soufflé.  So far, so (so) good. For mains, Lindsay ordered the rare-cooked wagyu; I went for the hare compilation (hare four different ways. Who would create hare baklava?). It was ably assisted by the Paringa Estate Single Vineyard pinot. At meal’s end, I said (without a hint of pissing in Lindsay’s pocket), “that’s the best meal I’ve eaten. Ever”. 

We enjoyed our way through a couple more glasses of the super pinot (dessert was never going to happen) while we indulged our passion for all things cricket. All too soon, it was time to be collected by Chris, who would get me home, safe and sound. She did. It was still a reasonable hour (from memory about 11) so a couple more glasses of pre-sleep pinot seemed like a good idea. It was a great way to ease out of the day before the need for sleep won.
The next morning ritual was the same as the one before ... cuppa, smoke and view time on the balcony before the brekkie buffet, a shower and packing, ready to hit the road bound for Darling Park Winery for some more early-morning tasting. I bade Damien a fond farewell (he was a wonderful advertisement for Lindenderry), banged my destination into the GPS, pointed the ute in the right direction and gunned it.
As I walked towards the tasting room at Darling Park, it was with some trepidation as I got to the door. I met winemaker Judy Gifford and I said to her: "I'm not too sure my body is up to a 10am tasting. I don't usually drink this early (OK, not often)." I'm sure she's heard it a million times before, but she smiled and after introducing me to all the staff, she eased me into it, explaining the finer points of each wine as we went (and, believe me, there are many fine points). Judy is a very special person, one with whom I really felt connected. She has five adopted daughters, runs a vineyard and is the chief winemaker to boot, so she has pretty full days, not that you'd notice. She's amazingly pleasant, friendly and has a great sense of humour. Her wines – 2011 Rose, 2010 pinot, 2011 reserve pinot, 2012 shiraz, Cane-Cut Late Harvest Pinot Gris, 2011 sauvignon blanc, 2012 pinot gris, Olivarni Single-Vineyard Pinot, reserve chardonnay and Hercules Chardonnay – they were very, very good, especially the 2010 pinot, a wine for which I'd leave home. Think spice and plum on the nose, Morello cherries, a touch of oak and fine tannins. Judy says it’s drinking well now but will evolve beautifully in the bottle until 2018. Although I was doing the right thing and spitting, there was no way the 2010 pinot was heading for the spittoon. Swallow, man, swallow. It was simply too good to spit. 
All too soon, it was again time to hit the road, sadly, given that I had an appointment to share a plate of cheese (thankfully no wine ... never thought I'd ever utter those words) with Red Hill Cheese cheese maker Trevor Brandon. Judy walked me to the car to farewell me, I promised to return, and I was off.
The cheese place was down a really pretty dirt track (bravo GPS) and soon I was chatting all things cheese with Trevor, figuring out which cheese went with which wine and the like. I sat with him and tasted 10 delicious cheeses. Try the buttery Granny’s Blue or the fetta, which I’d almost leave home for. Trevor has forgotten more about cheese than most people will ever know.
Trevor’s cheeses are crackers (ha ha) and, given the throng of tourists wandering around the place, very popular. I'd happily have sat there all day, but, alas, PR woman Betsy's itinerary had one final stop for the day on my agenda ... Port Phillip Estate for lunch (like I needed anything to eat). The cheese stop ticked all the boxes, so it was then back to the GPS and time to punch in Port Phillip Estate to meet Kate, the PR woman there, have a bite and sample some of its pinot.
It's just down the road from Darling Park (the roads were getting somehow familiar by this time). It's a huge place and this lunchtime it was packed. I finally caught up with Kate and she took me on a tour of the accommodation. Magnificent adequately describes it. The views from the two-bedroom suite were to die for.
We made our way upstairs and Kate said: "What do you feel like for lunch?" A quick squiz at the menu and I opted for an antipasto plate with beautiful olive oil, some Calabrese sausage and some very good bread. Even the thought of wading through the antipasto was daunting, given the amount I'd eaten and sipped during the weekend. "The fried whitebait with aioli is terrific," she said. "Do you like whitebait." What's not to like about whitebait? "Sure," I said, "but it's thanks, but no thanks. I really couldn't eat it." Didn't seem to matter because she brought it anyway, along with a glass of Port Phillip's single-vineyard pinots (it's $75 a bottle), which made it all better again. "I'll catch up with you in about 30 minutes and give you a tour of the winery," she said. The wine was super, so too the food, which, despite tasting terrific, was a struggle. I nursed the glass of pinot for an hour while I waited for Kate to reappear. Every time I saw her she was flying hither and tither ... there was a huge crowd in. Finally, it was time to put the cue in the rack. She was obviously too busy to get back to me (I understood) and I finally caught her attention and told her I had another appointment and couldn't wait any longer (OK, it was a white lie) and that I had to go. She understood. I thanked her for lunch and punched home into the GPS ... I was done.
I headed for the sanctuary of Chateau Mick, well satisfied and then some that I'd had one very, very special weekend. I'd eaten extremely well, tasted some magnificent wines (I spat far too much for my liking, but that's what you've gotta do when you're driving and you're responsible) and met some very special people.
The Mornington Peninsula is indeed in very good hands.    

142 Arthurs Seat Road, Red Hill. 5989 2965

166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North.

5989 7448
Paringa Estate Restaurant
44   Road, Red Hill South. 5989 2324
Taste here
33 Red Hill-Shoreham Road, Red Hill South. 5989 8412. www.montalto.com.au
232 Red Hill Road, Red Hill. 5989 2324. www.darlingparkwinery.com.au
Red Hill Cheese, 81 William Road, Red Hill. 5989 2035. www.redhillcheese.com.au
263 Red Hill Road, Red Hill South. 5989 4444. http://www.portphillipestate.com.au


(They were in the process of closing up as I arrived hell bent on buying more cigarettes. Like, it seems, everyone on the peninsula, the woman was as cheery as all get out and only too happy to be helpful.)

It didn’t take long for the wine roadshow to hit town … at Comme Restaurant in the city … and it was a bit like old home week.
I headed there with my friend, Emily (she drove and subsequently spat because she’s responsible), who was the tallest woman at the show  (the transvestite dressed in grey didn’t count). And I also caught up with PR woman Betsy for the first time. Great woman.
There were 20-odd wineries there and, for a pleasant change, there was no spitting involved on my part. So many great wines, so little time.
It was great to catch up again with Lindsay from Paringa Estate and Judy from Darling Park to shoot the breeze. All the winemakers were on song and only too happy to speak of the virtues of their drops. And there were so many virtues.
In a couple of weeks, Em and I are heading to another wine launch, this time Naked Wines, which is putting several winemakers front and centre. The great thing is it’s about a 10-minute walk from the office.
Life on the road is looming fast (there’s so much to do) and my LandCruiser has had my full attention.
I had some new wheels and tyres fitted … it now looks like a beast.
I also got a multimedia station fitted in the dash … it’s a computer, sound system, phone system, GPS (at last a new one), DVD player, reversing camera  … it does everything except make coffee (although I haven’t yet read the manual. Maybe it makes coffee).
I’ve also booked it in in a couple of weeks to have a canopy fitted and a roof rack. Can’t wait.
Regular readers will know that I don’t visit the supermarket very often, but last week was one of those times.
It was a gorgeous day in terms of weather, so after I’d put the shopping away, I thought “what the hell should I do now?”.

Bugger it, I thought, I’m gonna get another tattoo, so I went to see Simon at my nearest parlour. He wasn’t bust, so after a while looked through his books of designs, I settled on some Sanskrit characters that say: “One life, one chance”.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Plenty of pinot on the menu

Next weekend I’m off to the Mornington Peninsula to do some fine dining and wine tasting.
I’m not sure where I’m staying (although I think it’ll be two venues) or where I’m eating but I do know there will be plenty of  wine tasting to do. I’m just waiting on the PR woman to put together my itinerary and get back to me.
The trip is a precursor to the Mornington Peninsula wine show (I think it focuses on pinot) coming to Melbourne in September and I have to write a yarn for it.
It made me smile when the PR woman asked whether I’d be bringing a partner … me and a partner? Nah, that ship sailed long ago. Still it was nice to be asked.

Breakfast has taken a turn for the better at weekends. My good mate Ben has bought a share in a café not too far from my house (OK, it’s a five-minute drive).
It’s called Herbie Mills and it’s at 36 Mills Street, Middle Park.
The food is bloody good. The scrambled eggs on toast are as good as it gets matched to some thick, hand-cut bacon. For a change yesterday I had tea rather than coffee. They actually use real loose-leaf tea.
I had just poured a cup when my good friend Tiff lobbed and gave me a hug. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her. She hosts a sports radio show, among other things. “I’m taking acting lessons,” she said, “I may head to LA for a year to see how it goes.” If anyone can crack it, Tiff can. She worked on TV in the States for a bit over a year and has done shitloads of TV work here.
We’re planning a farewell dinner – either she’ll be heading off and I definitely will be.
Just as I finished breakfast I got a second hug – it was one of Liam’s exes – it was a bit of a struggle because she’s a bit of a head case. I was relieved she didn’t hang around.
It’s been a good time for food and wine recently … Liam spends more time in the kitchen than I do … and that’s a good thing.He tends to cook things that I never think of, like a couple of nights ago when we had pork and stir-fried vegies with noodles. Bloody good thing it was.
I had a crack the other night and that crack turned into a cracker. I’d bought some smoked ocean trout at the market the day before and I thought I’d have a go at some pasta.
I headed to the new deli/fresh produce shop around the corner from home – it was my first time there – to grab some ingredients. Mascarpone, fresh dill, asparagus and an avocado were the order of the day. The place isn’t cheap (I know how much rent they pay. I had a glass or two with the developer who built the place) but the produce is good. A case of you get what you pay for.
I blanched the asparagus for about 90 seconds and then mixed it and the dill through the mascarpone, to which I’d added a splash of the pasta water. The (perfect) avocado went into the penne at the last minute with the chunks of smoked ocean trout. It should be on the menu at my place at least once a week. The picture is a sample of the vino that's made its way onto the home menu. The E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, for me, was the standout in terms of taste and value. And the fact that Liam is not drinking wine is a bonus. I get it all.

Son Liam and I decided five days ago that we should give up the smokes. He’s a bit like me in that regard … goes through so, so many.
It really shocked me when he said: “I’m 33 years old, but I’ve been smoking for 20 years.”
We wandered up to road to see Martin, the chemist, and each grabbed a two-week pack of patches. So far, so good. We’re both enjoying not smoking.

There have been about 700 views of my Subaru Forester on the carsales website. Several have been in touch and taken it for a spin. Reckon it’ll be sold before the week is out. Then it will be time to sell the LandCruiser ute.
Liam is thrilled to the back teeth with his new HiLux ute. He has taken it for a (about 2500 kilometres) spin this weekend. I’ve had a drive of his … gotta get one soon.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Surprise right on thong

The bearings in my clothes dryer have seen better days (a bit like me really … yeah I’ve occasionally lost my bearings, too) and I’m kind of between the devil and the deep-blue sea. I can’t be bothered getting it repaired because I’m outta here sooner rather than later and it would probably mean one less case of wine I could have on the road, given what the repair would likely cost.
But I nonetheless use it now and then when the weather isn’t conducive to drying stuff in the sunshine. OK, it grinds sometimes, sometimes not (a bit like me really).
So it was last weekend. Liam and I had done all of our washing (and there was plenty of it) and he offered to take it to the laundrette up the street to use the dryers.
No big deal.
He buggered off with the load of clothes and I did the only sensible thing; I opened a bottle of wine.
Pretty soon he was back with everything dry. Unusually, I had a fit of “put the washing away immediately” despite the lure of the wine and the chance to do it later.
As I was sorting through it (I took my glass of wine with me anyway), I thought “This isn’t mine”. It was a very feminine-looking, multi-coloured thong (Playboy label).
“Is there something you want to tell me?” I asked Liam. “Or did one of your friends leave this behind [not that it would cover a behind]?”
“Nah,” he said, “nothing to do with me.”
Just imagine a bloke in a relationship doing the washing and getting home with a mystery thong. I’m not sure that he wouldn’t be deep in the shit.
“Nothing to do with me” reminded me of a time that I loaned my company car (yeah, those were the days) to a bloke in our office. He had it for a while (OK, I got a replacement car) and when he returned it, my wife (about a week later) found a very flash pair of women’s shoes under the front passenger seat.
I got the third degree, not to mention the fourth and fifth degrees, and pleaded my innocence … well, I was innocent, but she wasn’t happy.
I challenged the bloke who borrowed the car and he said: “Nothin’ to do with me. I’ve never seen them.” Yeah, I thought, thanks for that, you bastard. He went on to become coach of a national league soccer team and win a title (I’d given him a few titles, none of them complimentary). I went on to divorce. I’m pretty sure the shoes didn’t play a part in that but you never know.
The moral of the story is: be tidy. Don’t leave shit around. You just never know who you may get into trouble.

We had a quiet dinner last week: an intimate gathering of 35 friends at Old Kingdom restaurant in Fitzroy.
OK, I reckon it is the noisiest restaurant I’ve been in … it rivalled but then went way beyond Nobu on the noise level register (there’s a yarn about Nobu somewhere on the blog).
And it looked like a pisspot’s convention. I’m reliably assured that there were 72 bottles of wine at our three tables.
There were spring rolls and prawn crackers aplenty before the main event. The deal with the main meal was that it started with Peking duck, then stir-fried duck, then duck soup with tofu and veg bits. Oh, and there were plates of greens, bowls of ribs and something else I can’t remember.
Our table of 10 got through five ducks, carved at the table, a pile of pancakes and spring onions and cucumber and seemingly a litre of sauce. Liam has the appetite of three men and it did him in. It was one of the few occasions I’ve ever seen him knock back food.
It was the first time in a while that I’ve caught up with my friend Andrew McUtchen (do a Google search for his website and have a listen to some of his music), who has featured a few times on this blog … he’s a great singer, songwriter, athlete, feature writer and soon-to-be first-time dad … and, among other things, he’s also a great bloke.
He let it slip that he’s soon off to New York.
“I’m there for 48 hours,” he said, “to interview Roger Federer.”
“You’re what?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “I get to spend a day with him.”
Tough gig, that. I hope he gets to have a hit with him. Knowing Andrew’s sporting prowess, it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes the odd game off the champ. I’m looking forward to the story.

I was recently at the market buying goodies to make a huge feed of my favourite winter warmer, laksa.
Now, I’m a regular at this particular market stall and the service (and certainly the produce) is good.
After a couple of laps of the shelves, I was done and, with a basket full of goodies, headed off to pay.
There was the girl who usually serves me (she’s always up for a chat) … she was on her haunches, busily smearing lip balm all over her mouth. She stood up and said: “Sorry about that. I’m ready.”
You may be ready, I thought to myself, but I’m not ready to have you handling my food until you’ve at least washed your hands or at least put on some latex gloves.
She smiled. I said: “Nah, I’ll do another lap of the shop … there’s always something else to buy.” And then I headed to the other till, operated by her mother, who, as far as I could tell, hadn’t been applying lip balm or scratching her arse or whatever.

Liam and I did a shopping trip on Friday night to stock up the pantry with a bulk buy of cans of diced tomatoes, bottles of passata, a few hundred teabags, six kilograms of dried pasta, a case of bourbon and Coke cans and, among other things, a four-kilogram slab of pork belly, which we planned to have for dinner last night.
Saturday dawned too early (yeah, I was up before seven) and I got through the domestics before heading off for an appointment with the hairdresser (he gets the shits when I call him a barber).
“So, what’s the deal?” he asked, “Are we actually cutting any off this time?”
Given that my last trip there was to get the colour ramped up (no cutting), I said to him: “Right, it’s time for a haircut.” His eyes lit up.
He happily hacked away for a while and then said: “That’s it. That’s just enough off. I’m done.”
Not so fast, Muchamba (Seinfeld fans will get that), “get those scissors back and cut some more”.
“I don’t want you pissed off with me. How much more should I cut.”
“Thin the sides out, cut it so you can see my ears, take some more off the back, but leave the rat’s tail,” I said.
It’s the first time in about 18 months that I’ve had short hair, but I kinda like it. Don’t know how I’ll cope with the frostbite on my ears, but it’ll grow. Liam has been enlisted to put some beads into the rat’s tail over the weekend. Once a hippie, always a hippie … that’s me.  
The young fella took on kitchen duties last night for the pork extravaganza. He prepared lots of vegies to roast, including two full heads of garlic and just half of the pork … still, that’s two kilograms of beast.
We’d eased our way through a bottle of Mr Mick Tempranillo (reckon it’s not named after me but what the hell) as a warm-up before I opened a bottle of 2000 Penfolds Bin 389 to let it breathe for an hour or so.

Soon, it was pork o’clock. Sweet mother of Jesus. How good was this beast?
We each tucked into a huge plate of goodies and surprise, surprise, I cleaned my plate, unlike Liam.
We were both sitting there, belts undone, and moaning.
“It’s the nearest you can get to OD-ing on food,” said Liam. “It’s kind of like the dog that’s broken into the feed bag and emptied it.”

The Bin 389 (it sells for about 80 or so bucks … it had been in my wine cupboard for a while) was a cracker.
Wine Spectator said: “ Starts out dark and dense, but quickly finds a sense of elegance that lets the pepper-and-liquorice-scented blackberry and cherry flavours come sailing through, echoing beautifully on the firm, fine-grained finish.”
I certainly got the pepper and liquorice, but also a nice hint of leather (not an unpleasant thing) … OK, I’m not a wine wanker. This was a bloody good drop and a great way to end the night.

A mate recently sent this to me. It needs to be shared.
New Zealand officials have released a list of baby names put forward by parents that were rejected because they were too bizarre or offensive, including "Lucifer" and "Mafia No Fear".
The list of 77 names reveals one child was set to be called "Anal" before the Department of Internal Affairs vetoed the proposal, while another narrowly avoided being dubbed "." or full stop.
Other names on the list included "4Real", "V8", and "Queen Victoria".
In some cases, parents appeared to have lost any inspiration for coming up with a moniker for their offspring, wanting to call the latest addition to the family simply "2nd", "3rd" or "5th".
The department's rules forbid any name that might imply a child holds an official title or rank, so "King", "Duke" and "Princess" were among those that had been turned down most since 2001.
"Justice" was the most popular, having been rejected 62 times, although "Justus" and "Juztice" also failed to gain official approval.
In 2008, New Zealand's family court ordered that a nine-year-old girl whose parents had called her "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii" should have her name changed because it was embarrassing and "makes a fool of the child".
At the time, judge Rob Murfitt criticised parents who gave their children bizarre names, citing examples such as "Number 16 Bus Shelter", "Midnight Chardonnay" and twins called "Benson" and "Hedges".