Archive for March, 2009


Considering David Foster Wallace’s lobster

March 17, 2009

consider-the-lobsterI’ve been reading a bit about the late writer David Foster Wallace lately. I haven’t yet read his novels but have been moved and challenged by various remarks he has made  about fiction and essay-writing before he committed suicide last year, finally unable to endure his deep depression any longer. (The following stuff is doubly interesting when one learns that mental suffering – and the question of how to live a moral life – were so burdensome for Foster Wallace for so many years. )

Among his essays is this excellent piece he wrote for American Gourmet magazine on attending the Maine Lobster Festival in 2004. Consider the Lobster also became the title piece in a later collection of essays, which is now on my must-buy list.

The Gourmet essay is essential reading for omnivores like me who love all kinds of food – including animals – and yet like to pride themselves on their awareness of the complexity of food and its cultural meanings and echoes beyond the act of stuffing fuel in the gob and digesting it. Because if one has an ounce of honest integrity, eating animals must be problematic. Consider the Lobster is Foster Wallace’s very readable exploration of the issue of cooking a live lobster and whether the creature feels pain.

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Give me a freakin break dept.

March 13, 2009

kidcookAs a schoolfriend’s mother used to say when exasperated, JesusMaryandJoseph, I wish I was in heaven.

This article from the excellent Slate magazine had me retching over my breakfast. Apparently, in the States, there is a new food fad – small children as restaurant critics, chefs and food columnists. The New York freakin Times Magazine, for God’s sake,

has pledged one-quarter of its monthly food real estate to the kitchen exploits of a 4-year-old, Dexter Wells, who just happens to be the firstborn of the newspaper’s food editor, Pete Wells. Read the rest of this entry ?


Three cheers for Christos

March 12, 2009

the-slapSpeaking of cruelties and betrayals and food-filled family gatherings, I am so pleased at Christos Tsiolkas winning of the regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize last night for The Slap , his brilliant novel in which a man smacks another bloke’s vile child at a family barbecue, and hell breaks loose all over Melbourne as a result.

I love that book for its wild, sprawly portrait of contemporary Australia, its compassion and its ambition. I love it exactly as much as I love Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, for its almost completely opposite qualities – the restraint and careful spareness of the writing, exactly right for the piano-wire anxiety and taut, profound misery of caring for a dying person. Both were in contention for the prize, along with Joan London’s really beautiful novel, The Good Parents, among others. Read the rest of this entry ?


Roast beef and eels and fleeting cruelties

March 12, 2009

eel1Meal-times are so rich with understated potential for conflict, it’s no wonder they appear so often in fiction. I’ve just been dipping into William Maxwell’s beautiful stories All the Days and Nights once again. I so love them.

One story, A Game of Chess, details an evening spent by Hugh and his wife Laura with Hugh’s unpleasant older brother Amos and his family and friends, at a New York hotel in the mid 60s.

The whole evening is tense with suppressed, unsaid things, or brief and brutal comments. Hugh hears Amos saying to Laura, “You must come out to Chicago. We’ve got a housing project with niggers and white people living together” – a remark ‘intended to beat Laura out of the bushes and perhaps test the timbre of her rising voice.’ But she doesn’t take the bait; ‘She was there to defend Hugh, not to argue.’

In a tiny moment that comes and goes beautifully quickly, Amos orders well done roast beef and Hugh, to draw a line between himself and Amos, orders eels (I can’t imagine how in 1960s America these little babies would be cooked but I’m pretty sure the gorgeous smoked Japanese variety wasn’t it … ugh). Read the rest of this entry ?


Chops, cheese, octopus, and the end of Patrick

March 9, 2009
Patrick White, presumably in his kitchen. Picture reproduced by The Age in 2006; photographer unacknowledged in this version online.
Patrick White, presumably in his Martin Road kitchen.**

Tonight I finally finished the Patrick White: Letters, a book I’ve been reading slowly and with deep pleasure since January. Now feel a little mournful and quiet with respect, as one does on finishing a Great Book.

And I don’t think it’s too trivial to return to a couple of moments near the end, about PW’s cooking and domestic life. In fact PW himself, at the end of his life, repeatedly intimated that the routines of domesticity and household love, in which lay his life with the outstanding Manoly Lascaris, were the only important things he had achieved. Not true, obviously, but I can see why he said it. Domesticity and love, after all, were the great subject matter of so much of his work.

In 1985, he had a bout in St Vincent’s Hospital’s thoracic ward just as he was preparing to launch a new novel, his last: The Memoirs of Many in One. Amid other news in a letter from hospital to Graham C. Greene (the other’s nephew, a UK publishing chap), he complains that when he first came down with his symptoms, including  ‘curious persistent lapses of memory’ , a doctor told him he only had a hangover. This was: “- a pity because we had eaten such an excellent lamb biriani”, which happened to have been cooked by Neil Armfield, from Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook. Read the rest of this entry ?


White People and farmers’ markets

March 7, 2009
My depressingly bourgeious Dutch cream potatoes.
My depressingly bourgeois Dutch cream potatoes.

This morning a friend and I went to the new Eveleigh farmers’ market at the Carriageworks, Redfern. Got a bit of nice veg, and a rather decent chorizo & egg brekky roll*. But we were both a bit freaked at realising once again how smug everyone looks at inner-city farmers’ markets – and even more deeply disheartening is how we look exactly like them. The ol’ black t-shirt & jeans on a slightly dishevelled middle-ager carrying a bloody eco-shopping bag of some kind. The only thing we didn’t have was kids in a gigantic black eco-stroller.

I stopped going to the otherwise fab Orange Grove Market partly because I’m too lazy to drive 20 minutes, and partly because of the claustrophobic crowds and the number of irritating lawyer types watching their anklebiters disappear into the crowd, and instead of going to fetch the kid, rather just stand and bellowinto one’s nearby ear, something like Hadrian! Come back to Daddy, Hadrian! Mummy’s taken Tango and Bodicea to their Urdu lesson, and  I need you to try on this ironic t-shirt for toddlers that says ‘My First Recession’! It’s made of bamboo, Hadrian!

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Recipe burglars, ‘copyrighted’ food & artistic theft

March 5, 2009

burglarThe other day a friend asked – well no, commanded – that I put here the Neil Perry recipe for a very delicious vegetable bakey number that I once cooked for her.  The recipe is from his book Good Food, which is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks.

This presents a problem though, doesn’t it? What are the ethics – or even simply the etiquette – of reproducing someone else’s recipe in a public forum?  I searched the net and found blog etiquette seems to dictate that so long as sources are properly acknowledged, everything is fair game for reproduction.

Still felt a little uncomfy though (not discomforted enough to refuse to put the Sydney Seafood School red curry recipe here though, obviously – I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite), so I looked up the copyright rules about recipes. My understanding there is that if I were to write down the recipe in my own words, I’d be off scot-free, basically.

But I still felt weird about it; I was on the cusp of emailing to ask Mr Perry’s permission to reproduce it, with all due credits and links etc (fully expecting a polite ‘no way, get ..’ in response) when I decided to simply Google the name of the recipe as it appears in the book. Voila. Google Books has already “plagiarised” the recipe before me, thereby providing me with a convenient liberation from today’s moral dilemma. Perhaps. Or perhaps this is more akin to repeating the crime of libel by reporting the substance of someone else’s …. sigh. Wearying.

Anyhoo – my first suggestion is buy the book – it is a beauty and every recipe I’ve cooked from it is spectacular. Otherwise, join the Googlethrong, check out the recipe for Baked zucchini with goat’s cheese ‘lasagne’  here.  And think about whether you should also buy the book. ‘Cos Neil Perry’s pretty hard up.

There’s a very good article here, from Food & Wine in 2006, about the dilemma of recipe ‘theft’ and reproduction, and the bizarre movement in the US towards copyrighting dishes and formally patenting recipes in restaurants.

I’ve been thinking about this issue of borrowing a lot lately – because it doesn’t just apply to recipes, obviously. All art is born of the art that’s gone before – but where does influence stop and injury begin?

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Adriatic Salad and other fictional foods

March 4, 2009

adriaticsalad1When my novel The Children came out I received several very gratifying emails from readers who particularly liked the family barney in the fictional country town of Rundle’s RSL Club restaurant, which featured an escalating  argument between two adult siblings, Mandy and Stephen, sparked by a dish on the menu described thus: ‘Adriatic Salad: Cajun prawns, sweet potato, snow peas and lime mayonnaise.’

For some reason, lots of people liked the sound of this dish. A couple of people even wanted the recipe. That salad actually exists, in a motel restaurant in a country town that will remain nameless, where I did a bit of research for the book – it seemed too good to be true, so I pinched it.  I quite enjoyed writing that scene actually – and now I find myself scanning menus hopefully at all times now for fictional fodder. Tricky though –  it would be so easy to repeat oneself, but there’s such a wealth of material out there I’m not sure I will be able to resist bad menu items for the book I’m writing now (I’ve got three words to say to you, Kimmy: Gourmet Pizza Kitchen).

On the topic of food in fiction, here is a wonderful New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik about cooking real dishes after  their fictional appearances in books, with varying results. He says, for example, of the eponymous dish from Gunter Grass‘s Nobel-provoking novel The Flounder:

Eating Günter Grass’s flounder was actually like reading one of his novels: nutritious, but a little pale and starchy.


Airline ‘food’

March 4, 2009

At the risk of this letter’s over-exposure, I am linking here to that fantastic complaint letter to Richard Branson about Virgin Airlines food which did the rounds on blogs & email lately. It has such a lovely playful tone (if bad spelling makes you retch, stop here).

Airline food is, as we all know, disgusting in almost all its forms. On a recent trip to the UK I found myself, by the end of the  journey, unable to distinguish the smell of the food from the smell of the passengers. All those bodily aromas mingling with the revolting farty smell of the food – errrughh.

Here is quite a nice piece on airline food by Fred Ferretti in an old New York Times article.



March 3, 2009

A friend just made this astute observation:

“By the way ‘shuck’ is one of my all-time favourite words. It sounds dirty and cute at the same time.”

So true!