Everything but the kitchen sink

photo (2)For those of you who have now liked Monetise This on Facebook and live in Clarksville, Arkansas or Godalming, Surrey, or wherever my 100-something new best friends hail from that I’ve never been to, I’d like to extend a warm welcome and thanks, especially as it’s quite obvious that most of you just got drunk and clicked on something because it had a cute dog picture, as, indeed, I am prone to do myself.

And apologies, because now you’re sober, you’re reading this.

Bye then…

For those of you who still think anyone who is owned by a dog that cute has got to be worth hanging around with, let’s move right along.

‘Good Food’ is a newspaper section devoted to – yes, you guessed – good food, which comes out every Tuesday in the Sydney Morning Herald, published by Fairfax, a venerable publishing institution. So venerable indeed, that, like so many other of the world’s venerable publishing institutions, its venerability is rather vulnerable these days.

‘Good Food’ (which recently changed its name from ‘Good Living’ – and fair enough, at least we now know where we stand) ran an article last week by another venerable institution, Jill Dupleix (former ‘Times Cook’ – for the Godalmings among you), food writer and muse to partner-in-life-and-eating, Terry Durack. Together, they are the Gough and Margaret Whitlam of the food world (Google ‘em, Arkansas). Very tall.

‘10 Cool Tools: Jill Dupleix’s essential equipment for the modern kitchen’ included the following:

1. The Oat Miller

2. Microplane grater

3. iPad

4. Himalayan pink salt block

5. Mexican tortilla press

6. Pressure cooker

7. Mandoline slicer

8. Sous-vide machine

9. Digital probe meat thermometer

10. The Smoking Gun

Here’s the link – it makes for sobering reading, if only by highlighting just what we don’t have enough of in our miserably unmodern kitchens: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/cuisine/the-10-essential-kitchen-tools-20121022-2813m.html

And thus inspired, I give you mine:

1. Running water

2. Knives

3. Bandaids

4. Loud music to mask screams

5. Cupboards

6. Food

7. Pans

8. Heat source

9. Digital SLR

10. Food stylist

Without these, the modern kitchen is nothing, people.

Risotto by osmosis and other small triumphs

‘Photo foodies’ – Vodafone is now using you in its latest ad campaign. You are now officially uncool. Happily, I believe this signifies – marvellously, gloriously, inevitably (sorry, my needle got stuck on Nikki Gemmell) – the end of uncivilisation as we know it. At last, we can go back to just saying grace, tucking in our bibs and hoeing in amid the merry screech and clatter of cutlery against crockery. It’s only Marco Pierre White who “tastes with his eyes”, folks (so god knows what he cooks with…), so use your mouth like the rest of us and put down that bloody digital SLR smartphone. End our pre-dinner hell now, people.

Which allows me to not-so-neatly segue to the mushroom risotto I made last night. As you may have already surmised, there is no sumptuous visual reference to it gracing this post. Too lazy, too greedy; I ate it before I remembered I was a blogger.

So, risotto… For the aeons I have been involved in food publishing, it has only been about a year since I realised that I’d mastered the art of risotto-cooking by sheer editorial osmosis. Like those plump little buds of rice, sucking up all that simmering, shimmering chicken stock, I have simply absorbed the (granted, minimal) information required to achieve the desired risotto-esque outcome without even thinking about it – sort of like how children learn languages before they get to that horrible, self-conscious, eye-rolling stage.

Recipes make me anxious. And as anxiety (plus a lousy, three-week-long respiratory malady) has drained much of my energy recently (what with the recent demise of that li’l ol’ magazine an’ all), risotto has become my culinary Xanax. And no, it’s not about the stirring – no matter how sensuously, rhythmically, giddily (sorry – I’m Gemmelling again) the task is undertaken; nor the busy hiss of olive oil, the glug and slosh of wine or the gooey swirl of melting parmesan. Nope – it’s because I can make it without having to read a recipe.

Food magazines have a lot to answer for.

In fact, I’ve cooked very little of anything for the past few weeks, unlike my much-missed former colleagues, who all seem to be busily outdoing themselves and each other with matters epicurean. Ah, Facebook, what a double-edged little addiction you are. All that exuberant flour sieving, batter stirring and beetroot shaving going on; celebrity chef recipes being knocked over in an afternoon (not that that should surprise anyone); seasonal ingredients proffered like little temple offerings to true believers; perky foodie questions fired at (so many) enthusiastic friends. I’m still working on my numbers. I’ve not yet scored my social media century – quelle surprise – although the past week or so has seen a few new friends come over to the dark side… and one ‘friend’ unfriended, banished forever to Facebook’s naughty corner.

In much the same way, I have been torturing myself with LinkedIn, as I self-harm by recklessly updating my profile (alas, without the aid of plastic surgery). This entails further humiliation as I witness the relentlessly high-achieving exploits of my squillions of LinkedIn associates (and associates-to-be, if they ever get round to ticking the ‘accept’ tag, which they won’t, as they’ve already seen through my cunning networking ploy). Oh, the groups I could join, the insights I could share, the recommendations I could request… This last one unnerves me the most, as I’m too afraid of what kind of recommendations I’d receive. ‘Get a life’ springs to mind.

I definitely need to get out more.

Which I did, actually, throwing caution and my chest infection to the wind.

Wednesday
Rushcutters Bay park cafe with Robert, my friend of 30 years. Plastic chairs and tables under cathedrals of Moreton Bay figs; batting away scary pigeons and being blinded by scarier fluoro running shoes (now there’s a fashion statement that needs a sound thrashing). We met when he was a student at Sydney College of the Arts in Balmain and I was painting shop window mannequins for a living. He was doing this brilliant surfie chick impersonation. How could it not last?

Robert’s designing my latest CV (previous update, circa 1997). As this is the kind of task guaranteed to further augment my anxiety, I thought it best to stare down the beast by asking someone else to deal with it. It seems to be working. That and the inhaler the doctor gave me for my inflamed bronchial tubes.

Thursday
An afternoon of delight and pain in equal measure with my mother at Peter’s of Kensington. Speed-eating big sandwiches on banquettes in the café, spurred on by the imminent danger of being buried under an avalanche of Christmas packages propped above our heads, or else driven to madness by the strains of Rod Stewart murdering Gershwin and Cole Porter classics. An almost-life-size white leather polar bear took my fancy for a while, but then I was quickly seduced away by the Laguiole steak knives, which my mother bought us because she’s sick of not being able to cut anything when she comes over for lunch. That’s them up the top. No flies on me, eh?

The pain comes with the tearing oneself away from all that stuff. At least for me; hers comes from chronic arthritis. We were lucky to get out of there alive. I was lost among the placemats for so long she had to text me: “Im at nigella”. Motivation enough for a swift exit.

Friday
Cornersmith café in Marrickville with another friend of equal import, though of more tender years and with no history of surfie-chick impersonation. Sophie bought me a book to congratulate/console me on my new career status. It’s by Dublin-based Anne Enright, titled The Forgotten Waltz, and is full of unpronounceable Irish names, clever, too-close-to-the-bone insights and houses by the sea. I’m swallowing it in great gulps, much like I did the delicious, nourishing food at Cornersmith.

Just the kind of food I like to cook in fact – the sort of thing you can go home and pretty much re-create without a recipe. No wonder I felt so much better after lunch.

Brand power – flick off the switch on the way out, would you…

Well, well, well – here we are at a momentous time in our publishing history. Well, I am, anyway. I’m sure you’re somewhere else entirely, and rightly so if you know what’s good for you.

It seems that the ducks haven’t been in a row for quite some time, my friends – according to my other friend the elephant in the room. And my, what an elephant it’s been – the kind of elephant that everyone in the entire universe and beyond has been aware of for months, but only the people who are crushed against the mantelpiece behind it aren’t allowed to talk about.

No matter – ‘twas fun while it lasted. Mostly. And what talent I worked with! No, not you, Curtis Stone, nor you Gary and George and Matt and Matt (well, maybe the Preston one).

No – I’m talking about our art directors Natasha Allen and Vanessa Samuels – superstar creatives with unswerving patience and uncommon valour in trying circumstances (see above) – along with similarly endowed art editors Elizabeth Lough and Melanie Yun; food geniuses Sophia Young (enough said), Olivia Andrews, Dominic Smith, Jessica Brook, Sarah Hobbs – dream teams in every configuration; and a sub-editing line-up that not only blinded boys with their winsome ways, but who were all smart as whips and far, far better at subbing recipes than me – that would be Selma Nadarajah, Yasmin Newman, Zoe Lyon, Phoebe Macrossan, Samantha Jones and Rachel Hanson.

Good times.

Better food.

And plenty more besides. Splendid contributors and REAL food people, Leanne Kitchen and Marion Grasby, whose power with the written word and prowess with the pans have never ceased to delight, educate and cause an embarrassment of Homer Simpson-like drooling. And always filed on before deadline – bless your cotton socks. Wine wit and muso Greg Duncan Powell – a constant since Vogue Entertaining + Travel days; stylist extraordinaire Kristine Duran-Thiessen, whose ingenuity with a napkin and drizzling spoon are non pareil; and of course, Matt Preston, international man of mystery – but only when he’s waaaay over deadline with his copy. Apparently he’s scored a cameo on Lowdown which presumably doesn’t entail him judging a beautiful dish. Not the only one teetering at the brink of a new career, then.

So, that sodding row of ducks. This delightfully obtuse phrase was brought to my attention yesterday at an extremely long and rowdy lunch at the new Movida (oh, how I shall miss scattering those little insider foodie bon mots among the news-hungry) with the MasterChef Mag mob, by my partner-in-cynicism and formidable boss-woman, Trudi Jenkins, to whom I’m eternally grateful, among so many things, for keeping me company and being my immoral compass in this crazy little game we call magazines.

Or should I say, content platforms. Typical – just as I start getting to use this gibberish without being locked up in a padded cell, I have to rethink my career. I’m already boning up (ha!) on my doggy-day-care jargon. I’ll get back to you on that. According to Trudi, I’m two years behind with my corporate-speak anyway, so it may take a while.

Yeah, those ducks were all over the place, apparently. I blame myself (and I’m sure plenty of others would too, if they gave a fuck) – I thought it was a food magazine we were publishing. I had no idea it was about sports shooting, although it felt like it sometimes – usually at management meetings. Vale MasterChef Magazine – I’m going to miss you, but not as much as I’m going to miss the people… or the perks.

Ah, the perks. MasterChef aprons, MasterChef knives, MasterChef mixing bowls, MasterChef contestants, Curtis Stone measuring cups. Gluten-free flour, enough quinoa to feed a small South American nation (well, it’s them or us), obscure chutneys from Byron Bay and, worse, coffee from Byron Bay. Come on people – be honest now – there is no such thing as a decent Australian home-grown coffee bean. Our combined body weight in chocolate every Easter. Ditto mince pies every Christmas. Can’t say fairer than that.

So here we are then. The November issue will be our last – out on the 22nd of this month. The month doesn’t really have the suave cachet of a September issue, or the splendid, yet poignant, finality of a December issue, does it… But never mind. Go forth and buy it in droves, people – it would be good to give the finger to the bean counters by stuffing up their sales forecasts. Hell, it may even become a collector’s item.

But probably not.