beards and barbecues and smoky goodness

American barbecue. So hot right now. Smokin’ even.

Apparently, according to my sources, Melbourne has become intoxicated with all things Americana…the music, the food, the tattoos. And now, the long and slow, charred and succulent meaty goodness of the Texan barbecue.

Barbecue has been around for a whole lot longer than the current culinary craze might lead you to believe. Barbecue comes from the word, barbecoa, which is thought to have originated in Barbados in the Caribbean. 

Now the origins of the word, Barbados, might perhaps explain why Melburnians can’t get enough of the American barbecue. Los barbadoes, ‘the bearded ones’, was the name 16th century Portugese explorers gave to the giant bearded fig trees which grew all over the islands in the Caribbean they were sailing around. Melbourne is certainly up there with Brooklyn, East London and Lyttelton in terms of its embracing of the beard. As an aside, the beard trend has such a global hold that Gillette recorded a 17% drop in income for the December quarter last year. Men just aren’t buying razors the way they used to.

But back to the barbecue. Barbacoa was a traditional pit barbecue that started in the Caribbean. A hole was dug and then a bed of coals and wood was built. Then a whole hog or some cow heads were put on top of the hot bed and covered, buried and smoked for 24 hours.

From the Caribbean, this style of cooking travelled through Mexico and was taken up to Texas by Mexican ranch hands. They started using oil drums instead of digging pits and, given Texas is cattle country, there was a ready supply of meat to be smoked.

Jeremy Sutphin is head chef at Le Bon Ton, Collingwood’s answer to the need for barbecue. I recently had a chat to him about the art of the barbecue. He told me that there are ways of doing barbecue that you pretty much have to stick to and then beyond that, you can play with it a bit. And he knows what he’s talking about, he’s from Texas. He grew up with this.

In Texas, the traditional barbecue, especially the brisket, is just smoke, salt and pepper. It’s a dry barbecue. The main flavours are smoke and beef. It’s beef country so there is a lot of pride in the beef they source and smoke. The type of wood is also important for the flavour. Hickory and mesquite are the traditional woods for smoking in Texas. 

Jeremy builds a bed of natural charcoal and then feeds wood into it to keep it smoking. His beef is smoked for 16 hours and is juicy and delicious. Especially with his house made barbecue sauce with its spicy earthiness.

For Jeremy, traditional Texas-style barbecue is about community; bringing people together over food. I’m happy to embrace the way of the barbecue.


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fisherman’s rib


I knitted a scarf. It sounds simple enough. You just cast a certain number of stitches on a needle then keep on knitting. But I chose fisherman’s rib, which has its complications. 

The complication comes if you make a mistake. It is a difficult stitch to unpick satisfactorily to rectify the problem and carry on as normal. If something goes wrong, you really have to take a deep breath, pull it all out and start again. 

This is because, and bear with me here on the technicalities, with fisherman’s rib, you knit right down into the heart of the stitch. You actually end up knitting into a stitch from the last row. So you’re in the now but you’re bringing in what has gone before. And you just have to hope you’re getting it right in the present row so the next row, and in fact the overall outcome, works. This is always going to be fraught with peril.

I’m not really sure what happened because I really wanted to knit the scarf. But three times I made a mistake and I had to pull it all out and start again. 

I grew a little despondent because I wondered whether I would actually get to the end of it. But I had a vision of how the scarf would look once I got there, and once I committed to it, I stopped worrying about making a mistake and having to start again and just embraced the journey. It was satisfying watching it grow. And I liked the feel of the wool and the weight of the scarf as it grew. I looked forward to sitting with it, adding to it. 

It had been a long time since I had done any knitting. I had felt busy and worried about embarking on something I’d either make a mistake with or couldn’t complete or wouldn’t work out the way I had imagined. But along the way I discovered that I loved knitting again. It felt good to create and to do something for someone else. 

Because it was started as a gift. A reflex to a throwaway comment by someone who asked for a scarf. But by the time I had had three false starts and then made it happen, I was too late and they already had a scarf. 

I felt disappointed. But then I hadn’t said I was knitting it. And people aren’t mind-readers. They can only wait so long when the weather grows cool. 

I’m not sorry I knitted the scarf. It reminded me of how satisfying it is to create something from scratch. It made me sit still for a while now and then and focus on the task at hand. And I realised that mistakes can happen. But instead of expecting to make them and worrying about their eventuality, and thereby often creating them as a result of that, knitting the scarf reminded me that it’s best to enjoy the moment and also keep moving forward. When the project is worth it, mistakes can be fixed and you can carry on anyway. The end product may not be perfect but you got there in the end. 

boeuf bourguignon

Low and slow. I’ve talked about this before. Taking time, respecting the ingredients, enjoying the process.

As the autumnal days become bookended with chilliness, my thoughts turn to stews and casseroles and ragouts and anything that simmers and is full of flavour and tender cosiness. 

If you’re a wannabe Frenchy-type person, like me, boeuf bourguignon is definitely the go.

Quite apart from the delicious flavour, boeuf bourguignon has history. And I like a bit of history.

Boeuf burguignon is a fancy pants name for beef stew. It started off as peasants’ fare. And really the peasants got a much better deal on the culinary spectrum in medieval times than the rich people. The rich people were all about fancy aesthetically pleasing or at least apoplexy-producing dishes…you know, the old sparrow inside a pigeon inside a duck inside a swan inside an emu. They were so busy producing these still life accomplishments and then walking them all the way down the corridors of the immense palatial residences the flash people lived in, that by the time these culinary works of art arrived in the dining room, the food was cold. 

It is a much over-looked fact that the rich ate cold food. The peasants ate the slow and low cooked food that had been simmering over the coals all day while they were working. 

So boeuf bourguignon, now considered a bit flash, was always just beef stew.

Boeuf bourguignon comes from Bourgogne, or Burgundy. So it might perhaps go without saying that a rather large component of the fancy stew is a good burgundy, or pinot noir. And beef. Traditionally the beef was all about celebrating the meat from the area, so the charolais cows from Charolles, are the heroes in this dish. 

Boeuf bourguignon is all about taking time. Braising the meat, preparing the shallots and garlic and lardons, tying up a bouquet garni. Simmering. 

In Melbourne it is ANZAC Day. A day for remembrance and acknowledgement and appreciation and gratitude. As the sun streamed through my window and I braised and simmered, it felt good to take time and space to cook, but also to acknowledge the past and feel thankful for now and optimistic for what will be.

I look forward to sharing my simmered stew with good friends tomorrow. The flavours will have developed.  They will have become rich and warm. A nod to the past and a sharing in the now.

This well-known dish has its roots from the Burgundy region in France.  Beautiful Burgundy, known in French as “Bourgogne”, is 100 km southeast of Paris, stretching 360 km.  It has more than 2000 communes, and is one of France’s most fascinating regions, known equally for its historical political intrigue as for its dazzling architecture, excellent wines, and rich cuisine. – See more at: http://www.frenchtraveler.com/boeuf-bourguignon#sthash.Rmn64l8N.dpuf
This well-known dish has its roots from the Burgundy region in France.  Beautiful Burgundy, known in French as “Bourgogne”, is 100 km southeast of Paris, stretching 360 km.  It has more than 2000 communes, and is one of France’s most fascinating regions, known equally for its historical political intrigue as for its dazzling architecture, excellent wines, and rich cuisine. – See more at: http://www.frenchtraveler.com/boeuf-bourguignon#sthash.Rmn64l8N.dpuf
This well-known dish has its roots from the Burgundy region in France.  Beautiful Burgundy, known in French as “Bourgogne”, is 100 km southeast of Paris, stretching 360 km.  It has more than 2000 communes, and is one of France’s most fascinating regions, known equally for its historical political intrigue as for its dazzling architecture, excellent wines, and rich cuisine.
  Boeuf Bourguignon, a delectable beef stew, celebrates its roots through homage to its prized Charolais cattle.  Reputed for their distinct taste, low fat content, and gentle temperament, the creamy white Charolais bulls,  found around the Charolles region of southern Burdundy, are used extensively in the making of bœuf bourguignon.  The cattle are fed only hay, fodder, and cereal, which produce healthy cows.  The meat is very tender, and used for stewing and grilling.
Today, Boeuf Bourguignon is famous throughout the world, thanks to prodigious French

Burgundy roof tiles

Burgundy roof tiles

chef Auguste Escoffier, who first published the recipe in the early 20th century.  Over time, the recipe evolved from honest peasant fare to haute cuisine, and Escoffier’s 1903 recipe became the standard-bearer, using a whole piece of beef in the stew.  Much later, Julia Child used beef cubes rather than a whole piece, bringing boeuf Bourguignon to the notice of a whole new generation of cooks.
This dish is prepared by braising the beef in a full-bodied, classic red (Burgundy) wine.   It is then stewed with potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and well-seasoned (during the stewing process) with a bouquet garni , or a small satchel of thyme, parsley, and bay leaves.   Traditional preparation of this dish is two days, to continually tenderize the meat and to intensify the flavors of the stew.
In late August, celebrations in Bourgogne laud the prized Charolais beef.  There is the “Fête du Charolais”,  a festival that takes place in the Burgundy town of Saulieu.  Musicians, meat lovers and farmers alike gather in the streets, inviting anyone to enjoy an unforgettable gastronomic experience having traditional “Bœuf Bourguignon”.
– See more at: http://www.frenchtraveler.com/boeuf-bourguignon#sthash.Rmn64l8N.dpuf

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right

Unfinished book #3.

Today I finished The Book Thief. And right now, I am holding the most beautiful words in my heart and I think it will be a while before I let them go.

“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”

And so, with a certain degree of empathy, Death observes Liesel, the book thief, and her best friend, Rudy.

There is so much that has already been said about The Book Thief. I am only one of 8 million who have read it. And there is a film that I won’t see. The book was so cinematic and evocative that I fear the film won’t match the tightness of my heart. 

I heard an interview with Markus Zusak on Summer Breakfasters on Triple rrr. And, while he said he made the book he wanted to write, Zusak also said that writing the book killed him. For him, it was three years of constant everyday work and at the end he was a mess and also happy. He went on to say that that is how authors should be, wrung dry by the final copy.

The book was the result of a writing workshop in a school. They were all writing about colour. Alongside the students, he wrote about colour and three deaths. Death was the narrator in this short piece and he decided he would include that in the book he wanted to write about Nazi Germany. He said it made sense to him because people always say that war and death are best friends. But, as he thought about this idea, he wondered, what if death was haunted by humans. Death doesn’t see us at our best, so what if there was an empathetic aspect to ‘him’?

Zusak had a veritable magic pile of ideas to work with in weaving this story. One of the other threads came from the stories his parents told of growing up in Germany during the war. When they told these stories in an Australian context, it was like a piece of Europe came into their kitchen. Zusak remembers his parents often describing things in opposites, for example: the ground was covered in ice but the sky was on fire.

For me, the most compelling threads in the story were Liesel’s discovery of her own voice: her ability to read stories and then to write her own, to be a word-shaker and a calming presence, as well as her growing love for Rudy which she discovered too late.

I finished The Book Thief in the Gertrude Street Enoteca as the sun slipped down past the buildings and the chill of a late autumn afternoon took hold. 

And it was a quiet and thoughtful walk home from Fitzroy, through Collingwood to an Easter Saturday Abbotsford.

record store day

Today was record store day. I’m not sure when all these extra days started creeping into the calendar. The week before last there was international gin and tonic day. I was happy to embrace that. Record store day is potentially more expensive. Especially seeing as I don’t have a record player. And yes, I did actually think about it.

Record Store Day is an internationally celebrated day observed on the third Saturday of April. Its purpose is to celebrate the culture of the independently owned record store.

It was officially founded in 2007 after a record store owners’ meeting in Baltimore. One of those throwaway comments that made the big time. And clearly there was a global desire to celebrate the record store because it has taken off around the world. Today saw hundreds of recording and other artists participating in the day by making special appearances, performances, meet and greets with their fans, the holding of art exhibits, and the issuing of special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional products to mark the occasion.

Down at Northside Records in Fitzroy, I watched the queue before the door opened. I have to say, there is a particular demographic who lines up for Record Store Day.

There were a lot of happy customers walking away clutching brown paper bags of record sized proportions. I started thinking about the whole vinyl vs. digital debate. Is it just for nostalgic reasons that vinyl has made a come-back? There are arguments about warmth of sound and analog recordings being continuous, so our ear can detect changes in pitch as a note descends or ascends, as opposed to digital recordings which are not continuous but use specific values to represent information, which imperceptibly mean change in pitch or tone would be represented as a series of information. But really, say the experts, the difference in sound quality when either of these means are employed on good quality equipment is negligible. The act of flicking through a stack or shelf of records, sliding the record out of its sleeve, putting it on the turntable, placing the needle in the groove possibly has more to do with the warmth of sound than anything else, because that all comes form the soul. 

For me, it’s a moot point. I don’t have a turntable. But I am very happy to have been part of record store day.


la délicatesse, or finishing half-finished book #2

David Foenkinos’ book, La délicatesse, or Delicacy, has polarised critical opinion. There seems to be no lukewarm reaction to this little book. In fact those who didn’t like it, used lukewarm and insipid amongst their objections.

Those who loved it, and I am among them, appreciated the simple, straightforward and yet at the same time, quirky writing style. Sometimes I had tears in my eyes and sometimes a smile as Nathalie’s story unfolds. A romantic encounter and ensuing marital bliss bathes the first 31 pages of this short book. Page 32 changes everything when Nathalie’s husband François is hit by a car and killed while out on his Sunday jog. The rest of the book recounts her descent into a long period of darkness as she mourns François and the life they had together.

Just when it seems as though no one will break through her shell, she discovers Markus, an awkward Swedish man she works with. After a few ups and downs necessary for the reader to really engage and hope that love will conquer all, the ending is happy.

When I describe it like that, the book does sound slightly predictable and saccharine. But sometimes it’s not the story that counts but the way the story is told.

I have previously expressed my admiration for writers who paint feelings and ideas in such a way that I hold my breath reading them and want to archive their words in my head and my heart. David Foenkinos produced many such phrases in this book.

<>

“We may finally ask ourselves whether coincidence really does exist. Maybe everybody we run into is walking around near us with the undying hope of meeting us? To think of it, it’s a fact that they often seem out of breath.”

And there is a film. With Audrey Tautou. One of my favourites.


classics are the best

It is not International Sazerac Day. 

Perhaps it should be.

Since 2008, the Sazerac has been the official cocktail of New Orleans. But it has been around for a lot longer. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the oldest known American cocktail, with origins in pre-civil war New Orleans.

But there are three things that really set the Sazerac apart and make it particularly appealing is that it uses rare, strongly flavoured ingredients – including an obscure brand of bitters and absinthe -, there’s a special process in making the drink and it has an intriguing history.

Antoine Peychaud created the drink in 1838 in a French Quarter bar in New Orleans. The bar was named after a popular French brandy, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils. In 1873, the drink was changed when American Rye Whiskey replaced the cognac due to problems in the vineyards of France, ironically due to an infestation of the American aphid, phylloxera vastatrix. So this little American fly meant a more American influence on the drink. In 1873, bartender, Leon Lamothe added a dash of absinthe to the mix. Who knows why, but I am sure it was absolutely inspired. In 1912 absinthe was banned and, in some kind of full bar-tending circle, Peychaud substituted his special bitters in its place.

And I like that it’s a little bit tricky to make. You need two chilled glasses which you coat in respective flavours: sugar and bitters in one, rye whiskey or cognac in the other. Then you add the whiskey or cognac to the bitters and then coat the empty glass with the absinthe and put them all together into the first, now absinthe coated glass with lemon peel. I like that the process is complicated and takes time. You have to be patient. And appreciate the history. And really, it is absolutely worth the complication.

At Le Bon Ton in Collingwood, you can decide if you feel more Frenchy or more New York, which will dictate the choice of cognac or rye in the mix. Surprisingly perhaps, I went New York. I’m sure my recent Carrie Bradshaw assimilation is to blame. Absinthe was absolutely there. And a lemon twist. And a floaty old school feeling that I completely recommend.

the greening of my backyard

Somebody thought of it, and someone believed it. And look what it’s done so far.

AstroTurf. A great invention.

Did you know that the first fake grass was patented in 1964 by Donald L. Elbert and that he originally called it ChemGrass? No? ChemGrass. Not the most inspiring name. 

Lucky for ChemGrass, two years later, having tried and failed to cultivate real grass in their indoor stadium, The Houston Astros, a major league baseball team, decided to give ChemGrass a go.

And then everyone wanted in on this great new product and it was renamed Astroturf by a Monsanto employee, John A. Wortmann.

AstroTurf has gone from strength to strength as ground cover and and has now morphed into a political and business verb where a group will attempt to create an artificial movement to sway political opinion on a topic by making people think that everyone – even ordinary people – are behind a movement.

Facebook and other social media platforms have helped astroturfers enormously.

The US Government hired a software company in 2011 to create special astroturfing software to sway public opinion about various topics that weren’t getting much credence on their own.

I’m just happy that my backyard looks tidier and is greener than ever before.

part of me is glass, and also I love you

When given the opportunity to promote my blog through the local newspaper I write for, I had to stop and think, how would I describe this blog?

I reached out to the people I care about most and who I feel would know me and understand my writing. And I did some research about words and writing and how we approach the archiving of our thoughts, our inspirations, our fiction and our lives.

Amongst my googling, I came across an author who I would like to have a glass of wine with. Nicole Krauss. Beautiful writing which resonated with my unspoken thoughts. The quotes came from a book which I would like to read. Once I have completed the three books remaining on my finishing list. The interesting thing about Nicole, at least it is interesting to me, is that she is married to Jonathan Safran Foer, also an author. Foer wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a story narrated by a 9 year old following the death of his father in the twin towers on September 11, 2011. I have read this novel. And I felt very drawn to the protagonist as he searches to make sense of loss and connection and self-destruction and self-preservation. 

Obviously I don’t know Jonathan Safran Foer. But, on reading about Nicole Krauss today and discovering that she is married to Foer, I had a two degrees of separation moment. Nicole’s (and I’m not quite sure why I am referring to her by her first name and him by his second name…perhaps it’s a woman thing) book, A History of Love, came out in the same year as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and critics have drawn comparisons between the two. Whether that is fair or inevitable is probably a moot point. Couples talk. At least, you hope they do. There are probably shared ideas and reactions and explorations.

But to get back to me. And my blog. What I read of Nicole Klauss made me wonder why I write when she has so perfectly espoused the ideas and the observations and the pain and the joy already. Let me share some of the quotes with you, so you understand what I am saying. There are a few quotes and if you abhor when writers reference other writers, then please do skip over this. But please understand, for me this was momentous.

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

“When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?” 

“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme….

There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations. Shy people carried a little bunch of string in their pockets, but people considered loudmouths had no less need for it, since those used to being overheard by everyone were often at a loss for how to make themselves heard by someone. The physical distance between two people using a string was often small; sometimes the smaller the distance, the greater the need for the string.

The practice of attaching cups to the ends of string came much later. Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression. Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.

When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.

Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.”  

“I like to think the world wasn’t ready for me, but maybe the truth is that I wasn’t ready for the world. I’ve always arrived too late for my life.”

“Then I turned the page and at the top it said THINGS I MISS ABOUT M and there was a list of 15 things, and the first was THE WAY HE HOLDS THINGS. I did not understand how you can miss the way somebody holds things.”  

The author herself, explains the reason behind her writing:

“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost.” 

I’d like to rephrase the world and perhaps that is it, this need to be heard through my observations and reflections.

I have recently undertaken a Sex and the City marathon. Having never ever watched it before, I have osmosis-ed it in a very short space of time. For better or worse. It has cultural importance.

It really does! As with a few things, I was late in my acknowledgement of its importance.

Tonight I watched the very last episode and again I was struck by another – my new hero, Carrie Bradshaw’s (fictional words):

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” 

For me, writing is about noticing and feeling and sharing.

Thank you to those who summed up my blog in words I had hoped for but couldn’t find myself.