Recipes of my life


Had things gone just a little differently, I might well have become a chef. I can remember a night at my grandparents home when I was about 18, and they had invited over a relative who was a cooking instructor at William Angliss. He was there because there was talk at the time that I might train to become a chef.

I was a good cook even then and had an interest in food in general. I didn’t understand it until later, but I’d been spoilt. My mum was an adventurous cook. At a time when many families stuck to the standard meat and three veg mum was making curries and stir-fries and ambitious French casseroles, and so on. Most nights, we had dessert. The only clue of how unusual this was, was when my friends would make a point of telling strangers of my mother’s cooking: “guess what they had for dinner!”

So, I was exposed to a wide variety of food, and my palate had well adapted to spicy and adventurous flavour couplings. I enjoyed it from the purely sensual perspective – it was fucking delicious! But it piqued my curiosity as well because food has history and heritage. It belongs to cultures. If you’ve got an open mind at all, then you can’t help but be fascinated.

I was fascinated. I wanted to know more. And I was curious about how flavour was created and how things went well together, like a chemist mixing a concoction. Naturally, I tried it myself, and the more adventurous and interesting the better – and that remains as true now as then.

Somewhere along the line my interest and aptitude for cooking were noticed, though I don’t remember ever having a particular conversation about it. Apparently, it was obvious that it might become a career choice, and so the meeting was set-up with some distant cousin.

I can remember the night and quizzing him extensively as he spoke about the industry. We sat in the front – formal – loungeroom of the house in Strathmore. He was surprised at the range of my questions and commented to my grandmother how much more advanced I was than the kids he normally dealt with. It stuck in my mind because I was of the age when the sense of self is developing. He was a decent man doing a favour, but clearly, he had a passion for the business.

In the end – obviously – I chose not to take up cooking as a career. It seems very mature in retrospect. I reasoned that I enjoyed cooking and I didn’t want to spoil the pleasure of it by making a profession of it. I think also, I saw myself, and my future, in a different way.

I didn’t stop cooking, though. It’s remained a great pleasure, and I’m still a bold and adventurous cook. It’s clearly a passion, though I love the eating too. I’m urged occasionally to go on MasterChef, though I’m not at that standard. A few years back, there was an idea that Cheeseboy should team up and go on My Kitchen Rules. I wasn’t keen on that either.

One of the funny things is that I have a vision of myself in years to come, comfortably retired, and taking my cooking to another level. With time on my hands and a decent veggie garden, I figure, I take it up a notch and make it one of my things.

There’s a part of my nature very diligent and driven and, like many men, I’m a listmaker – even if it’s only in my head. I’ve been collecting recipes for years, much as my mum did before me, and thousands of others.

I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes looking through old recipe magazines while listening to Spotify. I have a thing if there’s a recipe I like I’ll fold down the corner of the age to return to. Today I went through the recipes and tore out the pages to set aside.

I have hundreds and hundreds of these pages around the house. I’ll be lucky if I make 10% of them. On top of that, I save recipes online. I have an app with 1200 recipes I’ve added to it, and which I methodically work through making a couple of new things a week, adding my notes and a rating to each recipe. I have a dream one day of having a hundred magic recipes that a lifetime of cooking has distilled into the very best.

It sounds domestic. It is, but it has a history. It has meaning outside of food because memory is in there too, and culture, and maybe a little sentiment – a recipe in its own way.

The next stage


I’ve just spent the last hour plus watching the daily Victorian government COVID-19 briefing. I think most of Melbourne did the same thing. This was the big press conference announcing the plan out of Stage 4 restrictions and every one of us was hanging out for it.

Expectations had been dampened over the last few days, and I think the general belief was that the current restrictions might continue a while longer. That was true as it turned out, though with important modifications. Stage 4 restrictions were extended by two weeks, until the end of September, but the curfew has been put back an hour, exercise times doubled and, most relevant to me, a bubble was announced allowing for people living alone to have a nominated visitor to their home.

The plan after that is for a gradual easing, dependent on how the infection numbers go, but it’s pretty comprehensive.

I felt a bit emotional watching it. I’m fully supportive of the science that goes into making these decisions, and though we’re not out of it, it felt like a prisoner being told he would be paroled in a couple of months. Just have to see it through until then.

That’s much easier said than done, but I think the great majority of Victorians understand the decision-making and will abide by the conditions of it. The ratbags and the odd politician make a lot of noise, but it’s amazing how many of us are willing to knuckle down and do the right thing by each other. Throughout this period, where Victoria has been the outlier, and sometime pariah, that the isolation has bonded us closer together. There’s recognition that we really are in this together, and for us to get out of it means that we all must do our bit. It makes me proud in a small way – we can be better, and here’s the proof of it.

While restrictions will continue, it will get easier from here if infections continue to fall. It will be easier a week from today than it is now, even if only in a small way. A fortnight after that it will get easier again, and so on, through the stages towards what they call a COVID-normal stage – late November.

I want to make mention of something many thousands have commented on: how impressive Dan Andrews is. As you will know, I tend to be cynical of modern politics and politicians. In general, I think they’re a rum lot. And, as a character, I’m not much given to unvarnished admiration. Among other things, my ego rarely allows for it.

I’m all in for Dan Andrews, though. His press conferences are a master class. Despite every provocation, he remains calm and measured. His command of detail is flawless. He never flounders, never backtracks, and never buys into the politics. He is a communicator par excellence, and his unflustered authority acts as a balm – it’s no wonder he has such support. I don’t think I’ve come across as Australian politician so impressive since Paul Keating. He cops a lot of flak from the edges, and of course, from the Murdoch press, but he is the leader we need at such a time – and far in advance of any other in Australia, and certainly Morrison, who epitomises mediocrity.

There’s a push for him to go federal at some stage. I have a gut feeling that won’t happen, but I think it’s a sign of how nervous he makes the federal government in how hard they attack him. Morrison has released his lieutenants to go hard at him, and the government is actively briefing journalists against him. I think it might backfire.

In Victoria, we don’t have much time for party politicking right now. We’re living it, we know what has to be done, and much of the rhetoric against Andrews comes off as trivial and irresponsible. It makes his attackers look bad. I think there’s a lot of admiration for Andrews across the country, and some of the attacks by Federal on State governments lately will steel resolve.

All that’s for the future, if at all, what’s important now is getting through this. I reckon 95% of Victorians would agree.

Metaphysical desires


After having a grizzle the other week about how every opportunity seemed closed off to me, I had a chat last week with management. It all came about because my team lead, a truly decent human being, recognised that I deserved, and maybe needed, more. He spoke to one manager, and then in passing, mentioned it to the department head. When she spoke to me, she had ideas and suggested I speak to my manager.

A lot of things are on hold currently, which I understand. The view is that I’m getting antsy about being denied what was promised to me. It’s not as simple as that – yes, I want my just rewards and am generally set by default to seek more; but, likewise, in reality, I’m not as motivated or ambitious as I used to be. There’s a lot of push-pull in me these days and will be until I reconcile it entirely. Regardless of that, there’s the very practical consideration that – having been wiped out – I need more to stash away for when retirement comes. Even so, if someone could guarantee me a relatively modest $120k pa, CPI linked, over the next 10 years, then I’d probably take it – even though I can earn much more than that.

The discussion, when I had it, didn’t touch on the metaphysics of my situation. The metaphysical rarely gets a mention when it comes to career development, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s confusing enough without it.

What was put to me was an opportunity for a new role in a different team that would give me increased responsibilities and a bigger pay packet. In theory, not bad. Then I was told there was no budget for the role – which is new – until next financial year. At that point, the whole discussion seemed a waste of time. Then he said, well, let me have a chat and see what I can do. The inference was that maybe he could swing it much sooner. He said he’d get back to me in a couple of weeks.

As anyone who’s been reading this blog will know, this left me with confused and conflicted feelings. There’s a lot happening in this mental space. There is paradox aplenty.

I’m getting over it generally, but a recurring issue is that no-one really seems to know what I’ve done or am capable of. They’re all very complimentary of the work I’ve done with them, but I don’t think one of them has set eyes on my CV. That’s a tad disappointing, even if only at a very basic level. I claim not to care much for what people think of me, and I think that’s mostly true, but don’t we all have a fundamental need to be recognised as what we are?

I don’t know how many times I’ve looked on and thought, I’ve done that before and I could do it better. It sounds a bit snooty but I end up shrugging my shoulders and moving along. Times are different now and there’s not nearly the rigour around getting things done as there used to be, and maybe that’s why experience is overlooked. I’m steeped in practices and methodologies, but the whole principle of them has gone out of fashion. I’m happy to adapt and have, but I’m not about to forget the things I know, and it seems a waste in general and a pity that no-one bothers to check if there might be someone more qualified.

At the same time, I’m subject to people that in an earlier phase of my working life would’ve been reporting to me. I can accept that pretty well most of the time because I know that I don’t want that anymore necessarily – but nor do I necessarily want to defer or take instruction from someone who knows less than I do. I can be a bit snappy then, and experience is that people soon recognise it and let me go.

All this is true, in my mind at least, but it’s also ego. It’s the ego that puts the sauce on the objective fact. I know that. It’s what I’m trying to get away from. Let it go is what I tell myself, and after a bit of wrangling generally, I do.

These are practical considerations overlaid by the part of me that strives for more and new.

Then there’s the soul-deep part that has no part of the conversation but looks on wistfully. I don’t know how much of this is me, and my circumstances, and how much of it is stage of life. It can be interpreted as a mid-life crisis, and a lot of it aligns with that. But then, I think some of it comes from having endured what I have, been deprived of nurture through that, and coming out the other end and viewing conventional aspirations as being pretty hollow. To be honest, there was always a bit of that in me, even when I was living the high-life. Having endured the low-life since, it got reinforced.

What it means is that in my soul I want something more than a good salary and a handy sounding job title. I want to be doing something worthwhile to me. Paradoxically, I think a part of that is being my best self.

There’s a comment a friend made a few years back that’s haunted me in the last few days. He said he admired me because, like Kobe Bryant – his hero – I could invent my own shot. When I think of that the urge is to let myself go. Twirl the dial to 11. Go for it.

I just don’t know how real that is. Is it legitimate to start with? And is worthwhile if it is? Is it pure ego again? Or is that the opportunity I turn my back on because I’ve become modest?

Very strange. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve known myself less well. The broad strokes I get, the history, but I don’t know who I am really, nor who I’m supposed to be.

Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

Anzac Day in iso


Yesterday was Anzac Day, one of the biggest, most feted days on the Australian calendar. It’s the day we commemorate the memory, and pay tribute to the Diggers who have fought for us over the years. Every year there’s a dawn service all over Australia, in the big cities such as the Shine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and in the little towns and hamlets dotted across our vast expanse. There’re similar services in other parts of the world, in London, in the battlefields of France, and at the place where it all began, Gallipoli (where I attended in 2004).

For a hundred years veterans have marched the streets with their comrades of war, cheered on by crowds grateful for their sacrifice. Many of them are old and frail, wearing their best suits with medals splashed across their breast telling the story of long ago campaigns and feats of courage. Afterwards, many of them will adjourn for a beer and a catch-up, or a round of two-up somewhere, or will even head off to places like the MCG, where another great contest will unfold.

Every year that happens, until this year.

This year the lockdown means we couldn’t congregate and remember. There were dawn services in the cities which no-one could attend, and the streets were empty of marchers. The old diggers didn’t meet up, and there wasn’t even a game of footy to go to.

In its place came what might become a new tradition. We were asked as a community to be out of our bed by sunrise and at the end of our driveway with a lit candle in our hands. To those who were able, it was encouraged they should get out their instrument and play the Last Post as the first rays of sunshine came over the horizon at 6.03am.

I was there. I set the alarm and was up in time and with Rigby stood at the end of the driveway, not knowing what to expect. What happened was slightly eerie, but very moving. Up and down the street, you could see flickering candlelight. To my great surprise, the poignant notes of the Last Post wafted in the air to me, first from one direction, then another. It was cool and solemn.

Across the road from me on the diagonal was a family, parents with children under ten – it was hard to discern in the dim light. I felt so touched to see them. I imagined, as I do, the conversation of the night before and the children excited knowing they would wake to this. I felt so proud of them, the parents telling the story of the occasion and imparting the importance of it, and the kids wide-eyed with wonder. Now they stood with candle in their hand with maturity beyond their years.

It was the same everywhere it seems. The occasion struck a chord, and much of the community responded, including most of my friends on Facebook, it seems. It was a lovely gesture. Standing there yesterday I felt so pleased to be part of it. It was an expression of solidarity and common cause. While we’re there for the Anzacs, what draws us together is the sense of belonging that we all need.

In the past, I joined the march wearing my grandfather’s medals. That was an experience like no other. I was proud to be there with my nephew, proud to represent my grandfather, proud to be part of such a noble movement. And I was astonished at how it felt and to have people applaud as I went by. I felt as if I was part of something momentous, and I had a share in it.

Many times over the years I’ve written of Anzac Day. It’s an important day in my life also. Often I would make my way to the MCG in the aftermath of march and settle in to watch a game of footy with 90,000 others. It was always such a chilling occasion. The crowd would silence. The Last Post would be played once more. The commands of the soldiers attending would ring out in the packed stadium. Then, at the appointed moment, a roar would engulf the place.

There was none of that yesterday, but in times like these, you try to make up for what you don’t have. After a long walk with Cheeseboy in the morning, and jobs around the house, late in the afternoon I settled down to watch a replay of one of the greatest Anzac Day matches of all – the famous 2009 match when Zaharakis kicked the winning goal in the dying seconds of the game.

Times are different now, but yesterday was a good Anzac Day.

In the street


It’s a steamy, uncomfortable morning. After a couple of days over 40 degrees, it’s cooler but no more pleasant. There’s thick, low cloud keeping the heat in. It’s around 30 degrees now and tipped to go higher before the rain comes later. Already there are one or two heavy drops. It’ll come as a relief, not just because of the cooler weather. My car is begrimed in red dust blown in from the country far to the north. It needs a wash, and rain is the closest thing to it it’s going to get.

I was out walking earlier on my regular Saturday morning round of the shops. I stop at the supermarket, sometimes the greengrocer, and at one of the bakeries. Sometimes I’ll stop for a coffee on the way back.

On the way there I walked by a series of red flowering gums in the nature strip. They’re in full bloom now, and glorious to behold. The blossoms are a fiery red and are abundant amid lush green foliage. This year the trees are alive with lorikeets nesting and gathering and feeding. The sound of them as you walk by is joyous and, looking up, you’ll see one dangling upside down, it’s beak in a blossom, and another creeping along a branch, and others, seemingly in conversation. I don’t remember it ever being so busy with birds. In past years I never noticed them at all; this year I can’t help but notice. I wonder if this population is surge is due to the fires, or perhaps to the drought?

Later, walking down the street, I came to a T-intersection with the road connecting coming from the sea. Abruptly my nostrils were assailed with the heavy, odoriferous smell of brine. What is this? I wondered. What does this signify? Why does this happen some days and the rest of the time not at all? I had no answers. I bought my bread and returned home.

Coming together


Monday afternoon on the Australia day holiday I caught up with Cheeseboy and off we went to a Bushfires Support event at a bar in Black Rock. It was going off in Black Rock. It was a bright, sunny day, and the clientele had spilled out onto the pavement. The windows had been flung open at the venue, and a live band playing songs from the seventies and eighties had the buoyant crowd bopping. It was very festive.

There was a distinct demographic present. More than 50% of the crowd would’ve been over 60, well to do and friendly. I looked about and rubbed shoulders with them, occasionally stopping to have a short conversation, and I could see my mum there, and my stepfather.

Mum would’ve been in her element. It was her sort of music, and she was never shy of having a dance. Such a friendly, social person would have quickly engaged with others around her and Fred, my stepfather would have been right at her side.

I bumped into an acquaintance there, then friends of Cheeseboy happened by. A woman was going around selling raffle tickets for charity, as well as a ticket to an old fashioned wheel. She insisted we buy our share of tickets then demanded that I spin the wheel – she’d cottoned onto me, while another, more matronly type, took a shining to Cheeseboy.

None of us won anything, but we were happy to sip on our pints of Pale Ale and join in the vibe. It was one of those occasions when you were proud to be an Aussie. Everyone was working for free. Half the profits from the beer went to charity. The prizes had been donated. Even the sausage sizzle went to a good cause.

This is what I remember. For all the fervour around Australia Day, most Australians are very decent, generous people. Maybe it’s a bit more skewed one way than the other down my way, but the spirit of community and pulling together was very strong. All of it was very Australian – bright and optimistic, a smile, a laugh, a clap on the back. Very open.

This is what I remembered. This is the best of Australia, just as the community response towards the disaster has been the best of us.

We can act on the things that need to get done, but let’s not forget the basics in the meantime – with few exceptions, we’re a friendly lot happy to embrace others as a rule, and to put in the hard yards for each other when we must.

Smoke in the city


I woke this morning to a heavy pall of smoke outside, low in the sky and much reducing visibility. It’s different to previous days. Last week it was hazy with smoke and there was a general smoky odour and quality to the air. This is much more distinct. You can almost taste the burnt wood, and the odour is much stronger.
It’s like when you sit around a campfire for a while and the smell of the fire infuses your clothes long after the fire has gone out. There’s the tang of burnt timber, not unpleasant in itself, except when out of context like this. This isn’t a campfire – this is the smoke from huge swathes of forests on fire. And it’s a health hazard. As I said, I can taste it on my tongue and in the back of my throat, and I feel a bit of sinus pressure around my eyes. It’s much worse for asthmatics.
The air quality is rated as poor in the city, and very poor back where I live, and it’s tipped to deteriorate further. It brings home the disaster very effectively. The light is a bit eerie, and the whole environment has a surreal feel to it, like in some dystopian movie.
But at least we’re getting some rain.

Too much civilisation


I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.