Coffee needed

Yesterday was awful. I was grumpy as all hell having to start work again. I actually felt bitter at the thought of returning to the same work and the same issues. I was cynical at the culture and workplace and didn’t want anything to do with it.

Today is much better. It’s always hard returning to work after a break, but I’d never experienced such a violent reaction to it as I did yesterday. Today, the hard edges have been smoothed over. It feels more familiar, and my muscle-memory is returning. I’ll survive.

There has, at least, been some progress with my role, though, as always, I remain sceptical until it happens.

Apparently the request for my pay rise has been escalated further to get a resolution. And, apparently, I should get a call sometime today from the boss outlining an enhanced role for me. He’s already called once, but I couldn’t talk.

Right now, I’ve set it to one side. I’m very keen for it to happen – for something to happen – but the immediate priority is to get over this bump.

To ease the transition, I’ve just placed my bi-monthly order of coffee beans. I get in two 250g packages of beans, each from a different roaster, and trial them over the next couple of months with my morning flat white. Everyone has different coffee tastes, and I like a stronger, richer coffee – more chocolate than citrus generally, though I’ll drink most.

This coffee routine is quite revealing of personality, I think. I know many people who find their brand and stick to it. Me, I like trying new things. I’ll make a note of my favourites and will return to them, but otherwise I’ll keep trying other combos out of curiosity.

In Australia, and particularly Melbourne, the coffee scene is huge and there are heaps of really good artisan coffee roasters out there. I know that many will think it typical Melbourne snobbishness, but I reckon the art of blending and roasting coffee is right up there with the culinary arts. Just I am with the food scene, the more I explore the better I like it.

And it’s great fun. Now that it’s summer, I make a pitcher of cold-brewed coffee every few days and drink as an iced coffee. Hot and cold coffee, all good.

Could be that was my problem yesterday – insufficient coffee to get me started.

What they don’t teach in school

I wandered down before to get my morning coffee. In my hand was a voucher for a free coffee leading me to somewhere different from where I usually go. It took me to a bar in a laneway with long rows of spirits on the rear wall. I’d been there a few weeks before, just checking it out. At that time I noticed a couple of large stainless steel barrels bolted to the wall advertising unpasteurised Carlton Draught. Now Carlton is not my beer of choice, but intrigued by it I made enquiries. At the back of my mind was an old bar in Queen street called the Snakepit that once advertised that it had shipped in its Heineken direct from Holland – and it was mighty good. And so I asked the question, and though it was only just past 8 am the bartender poured me a quarter glass to try out.

This time I fell into a conversation with the bar manager as he sniffed at some fresh cut mint leaves, exclaiming at the aroma. “All set for your mojito’s?” I said, by way of conversation. He nodded his head, and we fell to talking. Somewhere along the line, I mentioned the Caipirinha. “What’s that?” he said.

I was surprised. I thought everyone knew about the Caipirinha. I explained to him, it’s a tasty Brazilian cocktail, the key ingredient a Brazilian spirit called cachaca – like rum, sort of, but different. Great on a hot day. He was fascinated to the point of gratitude and promised to look into it.

What are they teaching in schools these days?

Going meat free

Austrian body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “you hit like a vegetarian”.

Source: People say Arnold Schwarzenegger is a hypocrite for urging the world to go vegetarian

I’ve been having meat-free Mondays for about a year now, and a couple of months ago added Thursday to that.

For me there are a few reasons to do it. Certainly the environment is one. We’ve created an infrastructure around eating meat that’s obviously toxic to the planet. I’m with Arnie, we can do better, and any little bit counts.

I’m doing it for health reasons to. When I compare my diet now to even just 10 years ago there’s a vast difference. I rarely have fast food anymore, and while part of it is economic much of it is for health. Rather than a lunch-time staple (as it would be 3 days out of 5 when I was working) it’s now a monthly treat, if that.

My consumption of soft-drink is down by about 95%. I still drink, though rarely more than one or two, and with the reduction in eating meat I’m now eating more vegetables.

I still eat too much bread, cheese and pasta, and probably chocolate, and should eat more fruit, but I’m much better than I was. I used to be a big eater too – I reckon my average daily intake would be 300-400 calories less than at my peak.

The other reason I eat less meat is ethical. I love my meat, but I’m also an animal lover. The thought of organised butchery oppresses me. I recognise that there’s a food chain. That’s nature, and we’re part of it, but I hate how industrialised it has become. If nothing else there’s an arrogance – or is it hubris? – in how everything is central to our desires, and our consumption.

There’s an unquestioned belief that the world and its resources are there for us to plunder. While that has environmental implications, it’s the philosophy I find offensive. We are part of nature, not above it.

For me the that is epitomised best by how we rear, at great expense, herds of livestock which are then, literally, fed through the sausage machine by the billions. There’s something callous and inhumane in this. The older I get the more it troubles me.

I love animals. They may not be individuals in the sense that we know, but they each have a life. I feel closer to the plains Indian view of life, in which the buffalo they feed off is accorded respect.

Chinese like the Chinese don’t have

It feels like the coldest year of the day today. I wore my fur-lined heavy leather jacket when I went shopping this morning, complete with a scarf I end up folding over my freshly barbered head to keep the chill out.

It’s a good weather to make a hearty, warming meal. I’ve just finished making a dish that in my home growing up we would quaintly call ‘Chinese’ – some mongrel variant on Chow Mein supposedly. I always thought it was a meal unique to our family. It was Nanny’s recipe, my mum’s mum, concocted in a time – the 1940’s perhaps, perhaps the 1950’s – when there was little real conception of what Chinese food was. To my surprise I found out a few years ago that other families had their own, very similar versions, of it. I still don’t know if it’s just a Melbourne thing, or Australia wide, or God knows beyond that (pretty sure that would exclude China itself). In any case, I used to love it growing up, and have had it probably once a year since.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a recipe for it. It’s one of those recipes handed down by experience, and likely adapted along the way. It’s been a couple of years since I made it, and so had to scratch my head first up.

Basically, if I remember right, it’s beef mince with curry powder, onion, beef stock, a packet of chicken noodle soup, soy sauce, and a mass of cabbage (I don’t think I’ve ever seen cabbage in an authentic Chinese recipe), all sort of thrown together and dispensed by instinct and taste. It’s bubbling on the stove now, the cabbage piled high wilting and shrinking and being absorbed into the mix. I’ll fix myself a steaming bowl of it tonight with some steamed rice, and will better for it – physically, and nostalgically.

And, can’t let it go – finished the first draft of my book this afternoon. 87,123 words. I start tomorrow on the next draft, many changes in mind.

Carefree H!

It’s been a surprisingly pleasant, even carefree day so far. That’s a word not used for a while around these parts – carefree.

I got into the shop about the usual time only to find out that the one therapist I had rostered on today (Thursday’s are quiet) wasn’t able to get into about 2.30. Normally that might have been cause for some angst, but today it was sufficient excuse to relax, and go window shopping guilt free.

It’s funny how things work. Yesterday I woke up grumpy. Today I woke up in a whimsical mood. There’s all sorts of mysterious elements that make that so, but from a practical perspective there was good reason to feel bright a chirpy. I had an enjoyable night last night. It was an excellent day in the shop yesterday. And my hair looked fine.

I don’t care what anyone says, bad hair days make no-one happy. Good hair days have a correspondingly positive aspect to them. Your hair looks good and the world can’t be too bad.

I got my hair cut yesterday the first time for about 8 weeks, my last couple of appointments having been cancelled because I was too busy. My hair was long and thick, sort of ok in a backwoods sort of way, but in need of some cultivation. As always happens I walked out of the hairdresser with my hair sticky with gunk and looking nothing like I want it to, but only a shampoo away from it.

There was no time for the necessary shampoo and so I carried that misbegotten hair style out last night. There was hair everywhere. I looked like the sort of person who didn’t have a mirror and probably couldn’t be bothered looking into one even if he did.

I was off to a book launch, but stopped off on the way to enjoy an excellent Aviation cocktail at Bar Americano. It’s a bar almost literally a hole in the wall down the end of an unpromising laneway. Classic Melbourne in other words. The bar itself might be classic American speakeasy. Wood panelling, classic cocktails, groovy era music, an expert bartender in a white apron concocting his magical brews. All it needed was a sassy Betty Grable type at the bar, and maybe a stock of bootleg under the counter.

Feeling refreshed I left with my hair trailing after me and attended a book launch at a friend’s home. It was an interesting night. I knew a few people there, and recognised a few more faces, including that of a guy I worked with years ago . I ummed and ahhed about saying hello to him, but by the time I finally decided I should he was gone.

While I was doing this the shop was going off all of a sudden making the sort of money that if it did it every day I’d be sitting pretty and happy to retain.

This morning I washed my hair and suddenly I was about 500% more attractive. That was good. There was a bunch of money waiting for me at the shop. That was good also. So, the girl was going to be late? Yeah, whatever.

I went out and bought a couple of books. It’s a sunny, quite windy day, and I felt the wind in my hair and it was thrilling. That’s what I like, that windswept feel and look. My hair is long, but generally so thick that it wont shift for anything short of TNT. Freshly cut, freshly washed, and it was unbound and free. Hell, I felt sexy.

Next I finally bought myself some new undies and socks. All my jocks have holes in them. My socks are missing toes, besides, most have lost their partner – how the fuck does that always happen? Basically I’ve been walking around hoping I don’t get hit by a tram. Now I can go out and get by the number 96 happily knowing I won’t be embarrassed by the state of my undergarments. Mum would be relieved.

Time to kill still and feeling cavalier and footloose I stopped for a hot chocolate at the cafe where I used to flirt with waitress. Now she avoids me. I think she views me as a bit of a vag-tease. Fair call maybe, and musing on that I take out the books I bought and flick through them. One is Return of a King, by William Dalrymple, about the 19th century history of Afghanistan, and the English there. The second, aptly, is The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman.

I picked it up in the bookshop and read the blurb, and then the quite over the top endorsements and thought, yes, might be a good read, thinking at the same time that I’ll probably recognise something in it. Though of course Nate is Gen Y, and there will forever be a gulf between us.

After about 30 minutes I left. Paying my bill I bumped into the waitress, and managed to make her laugh spontaneously. Win. I do like her.

I’m now sitting in a vacant shop waiting for my therapist to arrive. I bought a cheap CD before – Paris After Dark – and I’m playing that now instead of the vacuous, new age ambient shit we normally play and which I’m totally sick of.

Hope the day continues to be as good. Think it’ll be quiet, but getting the masseuse to teach me her trade. May as well learn something while I’m here.


In repose

Amid the strange and hectic lifestyle I possess I’ve taken time out the last few days just for myself.

Just around the corner is a wine bar I’ve been meaning to go to for months. It’s actually a high-end, niche wine shop that just so happens to sell wine by the glass as well. Just my cup of tea – glass of wine? – actually.

For whatever reason – time, financial, etc – I’ve not made it there all this time until Thursday. I wasn’t needed in the shop, but wanted to be available if I was. Rather than hanging around I slipped away for a quiet glass of wine – actually, two.

Me time is such a rare commodity in my life these days. I don’t have the literal space for it – no home to retire to, no bed to snuggle into with my private thoughts, nowhere – except perhaps the car – where I can just close the door and keep people out.

The next best thing to space is time, but that’s been in short supply too. I guess I’ve averaged 10 hour working days, 7 days a week, for the last 2 and a bit months. Me time has been snatched here and there, sitting down for a cooked breakfast – my only indulgence – or the odd latte. In terms of what I used to do and have, probably about 90% down on what it was.

You can’t really go on like that. You need time for yourself, and in the absence of any sanctuary you have to construct something in its stead. A wine bar – or any bar – is a natural fit for me because I’ve been to so many, and because I always feel at my ease in them.

That’s especially the case when it’s a quality joint. I walked in the other day, sat down on a comfy leather sofa, had a chat to the owner (and virtual sommelier), and in consultation with him picked my first wine of the night. Gee I felt comfortable.

I know this so well: the booze arrayed around me, the stately wine bar vibe, the knowing conversation with the guy who knows his stuff, and my own unwavering curiosity. And of course the feel of fine glass in my hand, and the richness of it in my mouth. I’m one of those unusual people perfectly happy to sit and drink by myself because I drink the experience.

I was there Thursday for about 45 minutes only and a couple of glasses, and last night for a quick (and expensive) Burgundy. I’m at repose, I thought. That’s the word that came to me: repose. It sounded good – that’s what I wanted. I sat back into the plush leather and sipped ruminatively on my wine and thought I could sit here all night. As my mind relaxed it turned playfully philosophical. I turned the wine in my hand, I looked about me, and listened in on the conversation on the table over from me.

Those sort of things recharge me. I go back to something I know, and am refreshed by it. I pause from all the stress and worry for a little bit – all of that, for a moment, is set aside. I am purely, selfishly me, H in blissful repose. God I needed it.

My year without food

I keep thinking of this year as my year without food. I’m eating, naturally, but not much that you would call appetising. I used to be a regular restaurant goer, but now hardly at all. I love to cook, even to shop for my cooking, but most of my cooking these days is out of a packet because I don’t have the time or space for more. I eat, as I never did before, purely for sustenance.

I miss all the good stuff obviously. I miss the high life, the bars, I miss the cool restaurants and splendid meals I’d eat at them. Much as I miss that it’s nothing on how much I miss cooking.

I’m an adventurous, accomplished cook. I don’t mind cooking complex dishes, and spend half my time seeking out new recipes to try. It’s a great vibe getting into the swing of cooking, the music playing loud, a glass of wine on the go, and a bunch of ingredients ready to be turned into some great recipe. Then of course there’s the eating… Gee I miss that.

A few weeks back I caught up with Cheeseboy for a drink and I had a request of him. Do you think, I asked, that I could come by one night and cook at your place? Not surprisingly he was delighted with the idea.

I did it last Saturday week for dinner. The Cheeses invited a few people over for dinner and I was the cook for the night. I rocked up and Mrs Cheese, very typically, had put a blackboard up advertising H’s pop-up restaurant, and listing out the menu for the night.

The menu was pretty simple, nothing too extravagant. We had a bunch of nibbles for entree, then for main something I’ve called Syrian Chicken in my old hand-written recipe book. I probably hadn’t made it for a dozen years, but it’s a flavoursome dish with coriander and chilli and ginger and honey and so on. I served it with s fluffy, fiery cous cous cooked with a bunch of spices. For dessert we had an apple crumble.

All round it was a successful, fun night, with a bunch of wine to go with the food.

Last Saturday night I caught up with Donna. We were going out for dinner first, but then she decided she would like to stay home and be cooked for by me. Back in the day she’d be a regular visitor to chez H, and a big rap for the food I put on the table.

This time I made a simple chicken pasta bake. Good, solid, winter food. It was delicious, and I’m having leftovers tonight.

It was great to cook again. I can’t wait to have my own kitchen again, with my own fridge, own spices, own food to cook with, and all the time in the world to concoct some culinary extravaganza – my year with food, and more.