Abandon hope, all ye who enter there

Save money, grow herbs, cook at home

Save money, save face, grow herbs, cook at home

It’s been a herby kind of month or so (and I’m not using a euphemism here – mostly). It just seems that everywhere I’ve turned, and whatever I’ve cooked, my old mate basil has been at my side. Except as pesto. I can’t bring myself to go the pesto yet – it feels like a betrayal putting those magnificent plants out of their misery too soon. Like farewelling an arthritic old kelpie after a life of toil, only with a Breville, pine nuts, olive oil and a shitload of parmesan.

Talking of euphemisms (and a life of toil), I was tossed a beauty a few days ago. Friends, I’ve been informed by email that I’ve been ‘rotated off’ an assignment this year – and I’m using the latter euphemism advisedly, as I’d like any future ‘assignments’ to continue to be as forthcoming as my herbs have been this summer.

After I’d replaced my Tena Lady, I threw this phrase over to a few smart folk I know to find out if they’d ever come across it and, once they’d stopped howling with laughter and towelled themselves dry, they all said they’d never heard of it. Not even my most corporately cluey wordsmith friends. Damn you, MasterChef, and all those overbaked cheffy terms – ‘cooked off’, ‘fried off’, ‘sweated off’ – that you’ve lumbered us with.

‘Off’. Who knew that a tiny adverb would gain such traction in the world of bollocks-speak.

I do quite like this euph, though. Quite apart from its comedic value, it’s spare and elegant, with an industrial edge. Like a Surry Hills pop-up. Would that I could have replied with similarly corporate brio, but I can’t think of anything better than ‘go forth and multiply’ which is a tad too biblical/Peter Costello/Joe Hockey for me.

I hope to be dining out on this little morsel for some months to come.

And talking of little morsels (I fear these segues will be my downfall yet), sadly, this gem came too late for my friend Sophie’s and my Celebratory Pre-Christmas Lunch – a tradition that stretches way back to December 2013. This year we chose north Bondi, though it’s hard to shake the feeling that north Bondi wouldn’t choose us for quids.

The obergruppenführer at the other end of the phone had insisted there were only two booking options – midday or 2pm. Okay – midday then. We would take our cossies, have an early lunch, get caught in a rip down the south end, be rescued by lifeguards and still have time for a Gelato Messina yoghurt and caramel cone. A perfect Bondi day.

Hungry, happy and ‘hooray – on holidays!’, I arrived at 11.58am and approached the bar. This, I was told IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS by the cheerless git in a checked shirt, is just not what you do at a restaurant that has already MADE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR that it expects you there at MIDDAY and NO SOONER. Chastened, I genuflected and shuffled out backwards to await his command. As I knelt, counting grains of sand, I pondered the curious ways of restaurants in Sydney…

Hospitality. You know, you invite some friends over and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff, and you make sure everyone has plenty of everything – seconds even; sometimes even doggy bags. Then you reapply your deodorant and pick the duck fat out of your eyebrows and greet everyone at the door with real pleasure, because you invited them, and you like having them around and being around them. And everyone gets drunk – or not – and eats too much and you get a real kick out of them enjoying what you’ve made. Then everyone goes home.

Hospitality. You know, you grudgingly allow some people to squeeze into a half-empty restaurant at a window table for two positioned right in the middle of a pillar that blocks a great view of the beach, and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff for a menu whose ‘plates for sharing’ come in odd-numbered portions. Then you reapply your attitude and greet everyone at the door with barely concealed contempt, because you know you need them so you can pay for your next tattoo, but you just want to be out the back tending to your heirloom pickles. So everyone gets drunk – or not – and doesn’t get to eat enough, because those shared plates have been plated-up by a horticulturalist in group-plantings of three and five. And you’re too busy chatting up a newsreader and some skinny bint Who Quit Swallowing for Life to have a clue whether anyone else is enjoying anything. Then everyone goes home.

BUT NOT BEFORE THEY’VE PAID YOU.

Spag bol - as Australian as Australia Day

Spag bol – as Australian as Australia Day

Which is why, on a satisfyingly cold, rainy and dismal Australia Day, I enjoyed a bit of contemplative herb-fuelled stirring (still not a euphemism – mostly), with the help of some lustrous bay leaves from a plant that I hope will outlive me. It seemed far more fitting than thinking of something wittier to say than anyone else on the planet about Mr Abbott’s greatest gift so far to our satirical landscape, or hooning around in a Nissan Xenophobia with plastic flags stuck out the front windows.

The dish of the day? Naturally, the Number 1 most popular, true-blue, cooked-off, plated-up meal in this wide brown land (according to those in the know, namely marketing professionals and content strategists) – a dinky-di spag bol. Enough for six – no split bills.

Extreme greens

Using topiary for good, Rose Bay

Walking the dog this morning, I spotted a car sticker on the back of an exhaust-belching, clapped-out 4WD. ‘STOP THE EXTREME GREENS,’ it hollered, and I couldn’t agree more – I’m so over headache lime and queasy emerald. Come back khaki and sage, I say, all is forgiven.

As my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I couldn’t read the small print under that call to arms, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t mention fluoro runners, so I’m still pondering what is so extreme about a predilection for clean air and water, social justice, compassion and empathy, but hey, what would I know.

Best to stick to the greens I more or less understand, then, despite being increasingly baffled and buffeted (and I don’t mean that in a hotel-breakfast-bain-marie kind of way) by the plethora of contradictory opinion on what I should or shouldn’t consume. Most recently, I’ve been swayed (I am nothing if not easily led – just send me the link) by the alleged benefits of eating fermented foods including sauerkraut and kimchi – partly because it’s my job to keep abreast of these ‘food trends’ (such as they are, considering most of these comestibles have been consumed heroically since the dawn of time by hungry stoics without refrigeration – bet they’d have been the first to descend on Aldi’s biscuit section if they’d have had the choice).

Yesterday, I was brought to a screeching halt in my pursuit of non-bloating nirvana by the derisive snorts of Kate, a young (alarmingly healthy) nutritionist I know, who proceeded to inform me cheerily that any health- or digestion-enhancing probiotics in food are knocked out swiftly and efficiently by one’s own digestive juices. Our bodies will do what they will with whatever we shovel in our mouths, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it, apparently. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Yakult.

Kate is part of the vanguard of a revolution – one in which people eat food, goddammit, not food groups and, while I prefer to stand with my back to the wall and let revolutions of any kind rush past me until it’s safe to proceed, I’ll be more than happy to trail along in this one’s wake.

So, let’s eat.

Not for the faint of heart,
nor the colour-blind

The latest salad to grace our table – so good I made it twice in as many days – was this vision of green and gold, which, if I were so patriotically inclined, I might suggest as a splendid addition to your Australia/Invasion Day/TripleJ Hot 100 animal-protein incineration party. Or you can just eat the whole lot straight from the bowl standing at the kitchen counter while your partner sleeps in front of the cricket/tennis/Chelsea game.

Green and gold salad
Serves 2 – 4 depending on your ethical standpoint

1 cob of corn
1 lebanese cucumber
1 avocado
2 tablespoons of pickled jalapeños (from a jar – one of my current addictions/additions to almost everything I cook)
A generous handful of Sicilian green olives (pitted will save you time and irritability)
½ bunch coriander
1 lime

1. Cut the corn kernels away from the cob over a serving bowl. No need to cook it, unless you’re fussy about things like whether you’ll grow an extra eye if you don’t use organic. I haven’t so far (grown an extra eye, that is, or at least as far as I can tell).

2. Halve the cucumber lengthways, then use a teaspoon to scoop out and discard the seedy centre (not Kings Cross, as some might assume, though that, too, could benefit from being discarded right now). I love doing this – so satisfying – particularly as I have the most perfectly designed kitchen on the planet, courtesy of the multi-talented silver fox, in which the rubbish bin pulls out as a drawer from under my benchtop. Genius.

3. Now cut the cucumber lengthways into thin strips, then chop it all to buggery and add to the corn in the bowl.

4. Cut the avocado into smallish, stylish cubes and add them to the bowl.

5. Finely chop the pickled jalapeños and add them to the bowl. Bored yet?

6. If you’ve been stupid enough to buy unpitted olives, sullenly cut the flesh from the stones and add it to the bowl, or just halve the pitted ones, whistling at your good fortune.

7. Finely chop the coriander, stalks and all (but not the roots – save them for when you hand-pound your own curry paste with a pestle and mortar, which is never, so just throw them away – who are we kidding…). Scoop it all up and add it to the bowl.

8. Cut your lime into cheeks or just halve it, then squeeze half over the ingredients in the bowl. Now go and wash your hands well.

9. Use your newly pristine hands to gently toss everything together in the bowl, then taste a spoonful of the mixture. Turn the other lime cheek (or squeeze it, anyway) if you so desire.

10. Serve the salad on its own or with seafood, poultry or meat. But not with sauerkraut or kimchi.