Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Weevils, pudding dolls and the vinegar mother.

Yesterday, I cleaned out the panty and half-filled a wheelie bin with foods past their used by date, including the occasional packet of flour, sesame seeds or polenta infected by weevils, and two pots of honey that had gone to sugar.  

It snuck up on me as jobs like this do.  

My husband had not been able to find the pot of salted capers he bought several months ago and wanted them last night to liven up his salad.  

He searched high and low and accused me or unknown others of throwing out his stuff.  Salted capers do not go off, he said. They do not exceed their use by date. It was just wanton throwing out of his most precious stuff.  

My husband’s mother gave away his photograph album to some neighbour’s kid when he went away for a few months in his teens.  He has never quite forgiven her for this, among other things. 

And so I started on the pantry and found the capers third row down against the back wall. 

We designed our pantry to fit into a corner of the kitchen with deep shelves that form a triangle at its innermost walls.  

It was a mistake.  These places are hard to reach.  Things build up there and die.  They go past their use-buy dates, they multiply. 

In the clean up, I found four varieties of tomato and pizza sauces, and three different types of jars of vegemite.  We had four of honey, two of which I threw out, and at least five already opened packs of flour, of brown sugar and bread crumbs. 

The worst offender was salt.  

My husband collects salt: Cyprian salt, pink rock salt from the Himalayas, kosher salt, ordinary Saxa salt, fine granulated salt, cooking salt for the salt pig on the bench, and black salt from Greece.

Alongside the salt, he collects peppercorns of every colour.  No need to throw out any of these.  They do not perish, but they take up space.  

The pasta packets, many opened, all varieties from tagliatelle to spiralli and rigatoni are my responsibility.  Not to speak of the rice varieties and the noodles, mostly instant, Maggi and the tastier Japanese stuff.  

You name it we have it. 

I was at a conference once where someone used the pantry as a metaphor, an excellent metaphor I thought at the time. 

This woman talked of the way we allow everyday things to come to the front and forget about the stuff that lies behind, until we do a cull and are surprised by all the now useless stuff we have collected.  

These past accumulations need periodically to be examined and, if necessary, removed in order to make room for the new. 

Which brings me to pudding dolls.

Last Sunday we celebrated Christmas with my husband’s family at one of his sister's place in Healesville.  It’s a traditional affair, with turkey and ham, but the best of all is my other sister-in-law’s plum pudding.

She makes it gluten free, on account of her coeliac disease, which does not matter one wit for those of us who can tolerate gluten, because my sister-in-law is a great cook and the recipe is tried and true over thirty years of practice. 

Years ago my sister in law came across some pudding dolls in an opportunity shop.  

These days she sprinkles both pudding dolls and silver coins throughout her pudding and every year we joke about who will be having babies in the year to come. 

It’s pure luck as to whether any of us finds a tiny piece of porcelain shaped something like a Kewpie doll but not half so cute.  

In fact they’re ghoulish, especially one of the tiny ones, which my brother in law reckons was born prematurely. 

We make a fuss when one of the young eligible ones, male or female, finds a baby in their pudding.  It’s a sign of hope for the future.  Hope in the next generation when the rest of us can only encourage new life from the sidelines. 

And finally, I thought I saw a ghost in the vinegar bottle last night but it turned out to be a 'vinegar mother'.  

My husband tells me the vinegar mother is akin to a starter for yeast or sour dough bread, rather like

 the bacillus that gets yoghurt going in milk.  It creates each new batch of vinegar afresh.

And so we reproduce, weevils and babies and vinegar.  And from time to time, we cull.  


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Peaceful, my eye.

Just this morning, like a woman possessed, I drove across town to buy a kilo of pipis, otherwise known as clams, which I could not find anywhere locally, when I shopped yesterday. My husband plans to prepare a Spanish dish, Salpicon de mariscos, for our christmas day lunch

Half an hour's drive from home, I stood with several other people in an orderly queue on Nicolson Street in Carlton.  The people at Canals, the fish mongers, are clever.  They have crowd control in the form of a woman who stands at the door with a clipboard and list of orders to be collected.  She fills out a slip for each of those who arrive to collect their order and ushers in the others, like me, who come to order off the cuff, one at a time.  

And so I managed to buy my pipis, which put me in mind of the days before we were aware of environmental sustainability, when we fished for clams in the sand off Venus Bay and collected buckets full of these tiny hard shelled morsels to make dishes fit for royalty.  

These days seafood is not cheap, but it was worth the effort.  Even as I felt so much a part of the privileged mainstream lining up for seafood on a Christmas Eve morning.  

We have just now passed our summer solstice, that time of the year when day and night are equally divided and after which things begin to head in the opposite direction.  From here the downward trend to winter. 

It’s hard to think of winter when it’s so humid and hot here, not as hot as it will get, but my thoughts turn to winter.  

My youngest daughter will soon head out into the cold of Europe.  She plans to spend six months studying at the University of Edinburgh. 

Take note, my good friend, Jim.  One of mine is coming over to your part of the world. 

I’m a little unsettled at the thought – not simply of my daughter on the other side of the world – but the distance between. 

And then there’s the usual build up to Christmas, the pressure to get things done before the day which some of us celebrate, while others do not.  

I am so much more sensitive these days to variations in practices, those who celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other events.  All of them equally important to the celebrant.  

There are buckets of conflictual happenings in my part of the world.  A siege in Martin Place in Sydney where three people, the perpetrator and two of his many victims, lost their lives.  Two people in the wrong place at the wrong time and elsewhere in Australia, in Cairns, a mother killed seven of her children and one of her nieces in what could have been an Ice-driven attack or some other madness.  

However does a woman manage to kill eight children, aged between fourteen and two, except under some crazed influence.  These events have cast a pall over our otherwise generally peaceful world. 

Peaceful, my eye.  It’s just that most of the conflict goes on behind the scenes, out of eyesight, out of the newsworthy range.  

And a lemon-scented myrtle in a large pot glows in our living room.  Don’t be mistaken by the celebratory birds, they are not as one daughter suggested ‘dead pigeons’.  They are papier mache birds with silver sprinkles on their backs and black beads for eyes.  

A sign of peace.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014


War hangs like a crucifix around my neck,
Behind double brick walls.
In leafy Camberwell.
Where men mow lawns and women cook meals.
Men in suits, office bound.
Women in dresses, children bound.
Australia in the fifties.
Behind double brick walls.