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.


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.

Middle-age dread

Finding inspiration – and aspiration – in the strangest places

It’s been a dry couple of months – sorry about that. It’s been hard to raise a laugh recently and, what with her flabby muse fleeing to Thailand for a nip and tuck, Monetise This has had to content herself with reruns of Episodes on UK TV and the guilty pleasure of Offspring on Channel Ten – the former a dampener on aspirations of wit; the latter, a delicious mind-numb of twitchy acting, perfect skin and high boots. So it was with gratitude that I pounced upon a column by a writer who regularly affords me the opportunity for some hard-earned middle-aged spite.

She has discovered, as do many writers having to come up with weekly stuff, that there’s no better way to break a writing drought than with a list, the fallback for many a columnist, including myself back in the day, when trawling the bottom of the barrel for subject matter.

So, armed with Nikki Gemmell’s tooth-rotting droplets of wisdom, I now know what’s been missing from my autumn years – other than Chanel tennis balls, obviously.

Her 50 edifying pointers on reaching that ‘glorious, grounded milestone’ in Saturday’s Weekend Australian Magazine have inspired me to add my own, as I head into the business end of my own inglorious, grinding millstone.

1. George Orwell famously observed that at 50, everyone has the face they deserve. Or can afford.

2. The only true failure is in doing nothing. The only true success is in concealing it.

3. Perseverance is the key. But not when dealing with computers; in which case, teenagers are the key.

4. Change is a gift. It moves us forward. Unless it’s in five-cent pieces.

5. Courage isn’t needed so much for the shattering blows in life but for the long, lonely cliffs we need to climb to then haul ourselves back into peace. Courage is writing a sentence that doesn’t make readers want to throw themselves off a cliff halfway through.

6. Failure humbles us – no bad thing. Or makes us bitter and resentful – far more likely.

7. We eventually learn to laugh at our failures, to recognise the lessons of them. But remember it’s still always easier to laugh at the failure of others.

8. Life’s a vast process of distilling – hopefully into those twin balms of simplicity and serenity. Or a single malt and a splash.

9. Overlive, don’t underlive. Especially if you have a good credit rating.

10. Recognise the courage in living differently. But don’t forget to brush your teeth.

11. Cultivate your mates for what’s in their hearts, not for how they look or what they do – or what they can do for you. And if that’s not possible, their livers are another good option.

12. Arrive on time; it’s respectful. But leave before they start cleaning up.

13. Be an appreciator. Or stay out of the housing market.

14. If you have one true friend, you can forgive all the rest. But will they forgive you?

15. Don’t be sloppy with friendships – or eventually friends will become sloppy with you. Always watch When Harry Met Sally in the privacy of your own home.

16. A gentleman, and a lady, always does the kind thing. At least once a week and maybe twice on Sundays.

17. To be truly free, you have to forget what other people think of you. And after 55, forgetting is what you’ll be best at.

18. Attention’s a gift. Just make sure you keep the receipt.

19. Beware the piracy of indifference. Only download from sites that care.

20. Never underestimate the tonic of praise. Never underestimate the gin of derision.

21. Appreciate the courage in kindness. Especially if it involves a Labrador and a small hand-held treat.

22. A light heart is a wonderful armoury for living. But heavy make-up is cheaper.

23. Accomplishment makes us happy. Unless it’s someone else’s.

24. Don’t suppress a kind thought. After 50, it will give you reflux.

25. Secrets sap us, stunt our growth. But not as much as cigarettes.

26. Grasp the relief in exposure, the dignity in risk. Unless you’re Rolf Harris.

27. It’s amazing how much support you can get when telling the truth. And how much more you can get when telling lies, eh, Tony…

28. Surrender requires just as much strength as resistance. But it tends to cost more.

29. Kids watch us – and do as we do. So how does that explain Clive Palmer?

30. The question to always ask: is this the right thing to do? The answer to always respond with: I don’t comment on operational matters.

31. Goodness brings happiness. Unless it’s quinoa.

32. Doing something for someone else helps not only them but ourselves; it buoys us. Especially if they leave a tip.

33. Calm’s impossible if you want to control other people, for their will is like an eel, slipping from your grasp. So buy a bigger trawler.

34. Crack open your life to love by giving it. And always remember that Vaseline is your friend.

35. It’s impossible to seduce someone who’s content. Unless you’re under 30.

36.  Sharing vulnerability makes us realise how alike we all are. Unless we have a good builder.

37. Strong people have the courage to show their vulnerability. Stronger people have the courage to take advantage of yours.

38. The bad times dissolve, always. The good times are swallowed furtively with a margarita, mostly.

39. Beware that reducing little word, “dependent”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by another. Be even more wary of those reducing little words, “Lite & Easy”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by packaging.

40. Thoughtful action is always better than impulsive behaviour. But impulsive behaviour has more of a ring to it.

41.  A life lived in fear is not fully lived. Nor is a life lived commuting on the M5.

42. With sex, honesty’s the most shocking thing of all. And it doesn’t leave those unsightly stains.

43. Live with gratitude; it’s twinned with goodness. Better still, live in Griffith, NSW; it’s twinned with Treviso.

44. Listen to your inner voice – it’s always seeking happiness and peace for you. Unless it’s quoting chunks of Monty Python; then you must seek it out and destroy it.

45. Live with joy. There’s so much wonder and beauty in this world – seek it. Start at Homeworld in Kellyville; tell Joy I sent you.

46. When life is crushing, seek the solace of the land. And if the land isn’t in, go to the pub.

47. A life driven by love is preferable to a life driven by greed or ambition. As long as it’s driven in an Aston Martin.

48. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t want to be told they’re loved. And not a dead person who could hear you if you told them.

49. At the end of our lives the question should be not what we’ve done, but how well we’ve loved. And how much we spent, factoring in the cost of prophylactics.

50. Stop. Take a deep breath. Think of three things to be thankful for, let the gratitude flow through you and… smile. Because you’re now free to throw out all those nauseating aphoristic little self-help books displayed by the cash register in bookshops that you’ve been given every Christmas since the dawn of time, and that dog-eared pile of Yours magazines, and go get a life.






Not talkin’ ’bout my generation

Living life, loving life: Lucy, 69, still loves surfing, Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.

A new magazine hit the newsstands last week. A bright beacon of hope for trillions of Australian women aged 50 and above, hungry marketing analysts and (briefly) a hungry late-50s female writer of an optimistic bent.

Yours, it’s called, dear readership, and you’re welcome to it, because it sure as hell ain’t Mine, or Anyone Else’s I know.

Yours is the Best & Less of women’s magazines – a place where yea who enter should expect to abandon all hope.

It is the cultural equivalent of speaking slowly and loudly to the elderly, the infirm and the foreigners.

It is the design lovechild of a Reliant Robin and a life-size, creepy ‘baby’ doll that grips your finger.

And if, as has been intimated, it is targeted at us 50-plus female ‘powerhouse purchasers’ (I should live so long…), then it seems to have mislaid its bifocals while taking aim, dear.

Granted, as with every clichéd aunty, it means well: the call to community (with prizes); the jubilant affirmation beside Every Celebrity’s Name of Their Age, no matter where they are (The Bush), or what they’re doing (Sticking Acupuncture Needles into Dachsunds), wearing (Harsh Blue) or modelling (The New Bob).

The New Bob. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?

Much like The Old Bob – still crap if you have curly hair.

There’s Short Fiction – so short, that no one – from the Empowered, Connected 50-Somethings, to the Feisty, Mountain-Climbing 80-Year-Olds – reading it need fear dying before they get to the end.

And among the Team of Experts is a Vet.

Because, in the not-too-distant future, voluntary euthanasia for humans will be legalised.

The Longevity Expert would be hoping not, I’m guessing.

Anyhoo, what I Just Don’t Get (apart from why they haven’t euthanised whoever chose that heinous comic typeface) is why we, being such f**king powerhouse purchasers and all, would spend our stylish, plucky, glass-ceiling-shattering, hard-earned dosh on Yours when we can buy Anything Else.

Long day’s Genet into night

Triple-ginger biscuits – not as nice as Yasmin’s

Working full-time for the past seven weeks or so has not been particularly conducive to blog-fecundity. Monetise This has been editing her eyes raw on a new delicious. magazine cookbook at her former NewsLifeMedia haunt in Alexandria (which, extraordinarily, hasn’t undergone yet another name change since last I worked there). Its big brother (hmmm, how apt…), News Corp, however, now has a new part-script, part-sans serif logo so screamingly daggy and indecipherable, that at first glance it reads as ‘Nems Cornmp Australia’, the last word writ large in what looks like a default font). But maybe that’s not such a bad thing – at least with a logo like that, nobody’s ever going to accuse you of being smart enough to tap phones.

Despite the temporary blindness and considerable weight gain brought on by a surfeit of recipe reading and the seemingly daily sampling of baked goods, there are many perks to be had when working in-house at a food magazine.

Earning money is one.

The triple-ginger biscuits that I was inspired to cook yesterday afternoon were another (they’re called ‘cookies’ on epicurious.com, where the recipe originates, but not on my watch), courtesy of Yasmin Newman. She’s about to launch her first cookbook, 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines (a beautiful, beautifully written book with great recipes of a less gingery bent). Hers were far lighter, crumblier and generally all-round nicer than those pictured above. But she is a baker of some talent, as well as being rather all-round nice herself.

My default baking state is one of floury anxiety, but those biscuits are worth any increase in my blood pressure for their sheer, unadulterated gingerocity.

Yasmin first won a place in my heart, and on my waistline, with a collection of chocolate brownie recipes, each inspired by her friends’ various personalities. I wouldn’t have the imagination or insight to invent anything, baked or otherwise, that was palatable enough to reflect the personality traits of some of the people I know. I don’t think unsavoury features in the flavour spectrum.

Best of all, seven weeks of daily toil at the editorial coalface gave me the perfect excuse to do nothing but slump, dozing intermittently, in front of Foxtel every night. Which fetched me up at The Dragon’s Den. No, friends, not a metaphysical descent into work-induced despair, but a television program inhabited by people with enough shrill self-belief to occasionally persuade stern-browed investors to finance products such as self-adhesive ‘eye flicks’.

Oddly, that enterprise didn’t pique the interest of the backers it so richly deserved – not even ‘Dragon’ Hilary Devey, who seems to already have a problematic relationship with her make-up mirror. Had I had a spare 50,000 quid, I’d have jumped at the opportunity. Hell, there was even a sub-range of ‘party eye flicks’. How could it lose?

Perhaps my non-existent life savings would be better invested in crowd-funding some quality theatre, although I can’t seem to find any anywhere, even when the participants are of the calibre of Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki.

I was hoping to write a searing, insightful post about Jean Genet’s The Maids, but I lost the will to live about 2 minutes after Debicki left the stage. All that kept me going for rest of the performance was my increasingly resentful fascination in how damned good all those women looked in their underwear.

But I felt vindicated by the time Debicki, Blanchett and Huppert had coaxed out three curtain calls, as everyone else seemed to have lost the will to live, too. Perhaps it was just that we were all desperate not to miss out on a table at Cafe Sopra up the road.

Fools. Gone are the halcyon days when the matchless Andy Bunn was, um, peaking at the Sopra stoves. A dismally flaccid ‘mixed mushroom’ salad (which, I’ve since concluded, meant ‘mixed with a trowel in a large bathtub’ rather than any evidence of fungi variety) swamped in dressing with some sodden potatoes does not a happy philistine make.

If you want a salad – go to Kepos St Kitchen and be done with it. I cooked chef/owner Michael Rantissi’s cauliflower salad (the recipe can be found in the April issue of delicious. magazine) as part of the fresh, vibrant, seasonal, local (and all manner of other foodie buzzwords) vegetarian spread I put on for the third, dispiriting Australia v British-and-everywhere-else-Lions test match. That’s why we lost. Not enough meat.

Years ago, when my friend who accompanied me on last week’s theatre date and I were at Sydney’s University of Technology studying (and I use the term loosely) a degree in Communications (looser still), we frequented many a cinema and playhouse in search of entertainment and enlightenment, with varying degrees of bafflement.

So how we both chuckled ruefully last week after the applause (rather quickly) faded at The Maids, and the audience rushed off to order their stuffed zucchini flowers.

My how we laughed, not only at their reckless veering from the hallowed path of vibrant seasonality on that cold winter’s night, but fondly remembering the credits rolling at the end of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive some 10 years ago, and turning to each other to mouth as one, “What the f**k was that all about?”

But I didn’t really care what The Maids was all about. All I wanted was for the shouting to stop. And for Cate Blanchett to just drink the damn tea, already.