” We’re Out Of Canned Snake “

Well, damn. And I had my heart set on a big plate of dugite in gravy. I’ll have to make do with bread and butter.

I admire the cuisines beloved of many different ethnic groups. Likewise I recognise the artistry inherent in their dances, clothing, and literature…albeit I have no idea what they are saying or doing and the clothing they wear looks as if it was stitched together with brass wire. I figure it is their hides, slides, and insides and not for me to criticise.

Admiration, however, does not mean emulation. In the case of exotic cuisine I am more than happy for it to remain so. If they have shops that cater for their own palates, well and good. I have mine. They include Elmar’s, IGA, and Aldi, and if I cannot suit myself there I can always haunt Coles or Woolies. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of canned insects or vermin in oil. Indeed, come high summer, between myself and the cat, we could probably provide them with all the skittering protein they could handle.

I did try to adapt myself to the influx of Asian grocery shops here in our suburb. Close as we are to an Asian dormitory suburb and a south Asian subdivision, it’s not surprising that there has been a burgeoning in the specialty grocery market. I went to my local one and did my best to understand the items on offer – eventually settling on Yeo’s curry sauce from Singapore as the easiest thing to incorporate in the family menu. It’s never failed, and I always grab a can when I see it.

But when I tried to decipher all the other curry offerings I was stumped – so many canneries, so many flavours, so many different bits of advice on the can. I took a selection of them to the chap at the counter but he said he doesn’t eat that stuff…Hmmm…

I must screw up my courage and go to the Indian grocery next. Surely, if anyone, they will be able to advise me.

PS: Don’t try to con me and make me eat some awful offal to amuse your mates. I won’t do it, no matter what the social circumstance. I won’t be rude – ” Thank you. No. ” is perfectly civil.

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Take One Spoon From Bowl A And One From Bowl B…

The family are out tonight.

I am not. Therefore it is incumbent upon me to feed myself without reference to their needs or desires. I can let myself go. And I am letting myself go to the refrigerator and looking to see what’s in the Tupperware. It’s Leftover Night. I couldn’t be happier.

We accumulate plastic bowls of stuff. Potatoes, beans, pasta, Chinese food, casseroles. Nearly everything that is made fresh has an echo. While we do police the shelves to discard stuff that is too old to define, the rest is fair game for the big stir-fry lottery. I am happy to say that I have very rarely managed to make leftovers inedible.

Some tastes do not mix. Milk pudding and fish cakes is a mistake. Taco Bell is never improved by being asked to become Taco Baklava. And nothing that was ever intended for the cat should be diverted to the dinner table.

But everything else is fair game. Ooh…I wish we did have some game. Rabbit, pheasant, moose…Hard to get moose in an Australian suburb – even the Canadian specialty shops make excuses and say they’re sorry they can’t supply it. Well, they would say ” sorry “…they’re Canadians. But what I wouldn’t give for a big ‘ol can of whole moose in gravy.

You can also play the leftover game with desserts. Sweet is sweet, no matter how it is produced, and the meat/milk decisions you might have to make in the main course are swept away for the afters. The problem is that generally there are fewer leftover desserts than other portions of the meals. One solves this by making fresh desserts – it doesn’t pay to be discouraged. I was trifling with the idea of putting cake, sherry, custard, and fruit into a bowl but decided that it would never work.

A note to cooks who put things in Tupperware. TW takes up a surprisingly large volume of space in a fridge. You think it’s all jolly colours and a flexible lid, but the engineers at the Tupperware factory have a secret plan to take over the kitchens of the world. Every container is bigger than you need and the lid makes it bigger still. The clever ones that nest into each other are apt to squeeze everything else out of the appliance – but they are so cute that no-one can resist getting the whole range.

My solution is not to get twee about the food. It will all go into and out of the same holes anyway, so it might as well all be lumped into one big pot in the refrigerator and be done with it. You never can tell – no matter what you throw in there it becomes brown and you may end up for a brief period of time with a Brillat-Savarin winner.

I Talk And We Listen

I’ve been taken somewhat to task recently by a reader of another weblog column who complained that I did not write what he wished to read. I suspect that what he wanted to read was what he had written – and that if I had written to his mind I should equally have displeased him…for I should have stolen his story and portrayed it as my own.

And there it is for many authors…if they write their story they risk the wrath. And yet, in the end, their own story is the only one they can honestly tell.

This is no bad thing. Consider – if I tell something I know to you, you are not required to hear it – you can turn away unheeding. But I can’t tell you without telling myself, and in many cases I am the person who needs to hear that story. I need to get something straight in my own mind…to remember or to understand. The rehearsal of the facts helps me where it might just bore you.

The WordPress weblog columns can be therapeutic instruments for many people and I am impressed that they are made available to so many for such a little cost. I think mine have done me a world of good in the last six years and I would readily recommend the writing of one to anyone upon a trial basis. There may be no more Hemingways out there, but there are certainly writers who can toll their own bells.

 

Today’s Victories

One: I read a dozen foolish and arrogant posts on Facebook from a dozen foolish and arrogant people and then elected not to make it a Baker’s Dozen…

Two: I coped with the needs of other people at the expense of my own. If I keep my blessed mouth shut about it, and then dismiss it from my mind, it will be a victory.

Three: I did not spend money for unnecessary things.

Four: I did my duty and kept my promises.

Five: I took the moral decision to avoid a bad idea that has been suggested to me. My initial reaction was to reject it – then I researched the morality – and I was delighted to see that authority agreed with me.

Six: I was a good host. So was my wife, and our house welcomed our visitors.

That seems pretty small stuff, until I consider it in terms of the way the world sometimes works. And also when I consider the times that I did not do so well. I hope I have other good days.

Cooking Classes For The Tasteless

We are always being bombarded with the phrases ” Good Taste ” and ” Bad Taste ” but the people who scold us about these things never seem to be able to offer a practical way to differentiate the two. Often it amounts to waiting until something goes from one to the other – and there are instances of some things switching from one camp to the other several times within a century. You need to have some way to predict which side of the fence you should be on when it blows down.

Here is the current BGA guide to Good and Bad Taste:

a. Name calling is always in bad taste unless the name is really quite clever or trendy and you have a position as a sometime journalist with a small suburban paper. As no-one really reads the thing before they wrap cat scraps in it, you can use it as a platform to be as rude as you please.

b. Bullying is similarly in bad taste. The unfortunate thing is that there is no direct opposite to the word ” bullying ” that can be praised as good taste so the campaigns to stop it can be a little weak. It’s hard to tell someone to take to their tormentors with a fire axe and make it sound like good taste…though it may be good fun.

c. Beige is nearly always good taste and nipple pink nearly always bad. But here again real life can be maddening – at one stage of the Second World War the British experimented with painting some Spitfires ” Nipple Pink ” as a form of dawn camouflage.

d. Nutritionists and health writers are fond of telling us that anything fried is in bad taste. Cooks, on the other hand, frequently fry things and make them taste very good. A case of reality being falsely advertised or vice versa.

e. Comedy is often in bad taste – and jokes in good taste are frequently so weak as to expire before any resuscitation can be attempted. They are greeted with fashionable silence. The cry of ” Quieter and Sadder ” may come from the back of the hall…

f. Anything that involves excretions is in bad taste – the equipment, the occasions, the produce. Just a bad idea.

g. Kittens and puppies are nearly always in good taste. Small owls and otters as well, though the latter may leave damp patches ( see (f.) above. Use your discretion and have a cloth handy.

h. Self aggrandisement, boasting, skiting, bragging, and generally arrogant behaviour is in bad taste until one becomes media promoter, entertainment celebrity, or political candidate. Then it becomes a good idea, if not exactly good taste.

 

Home Five – Bath

I live at home.

And part of living for Australians is getting clean. I do not propose to offend the British readers by making coal-in-the-bath  and soap jokes, but take it from me – Australians like to get clean.

Some of them do it in the ocean or the pool. Some of them do it in the sauna. I do it in the shower. Every blessed morning, and sometimes twice a day – if I have been making a mess of myself in the Little Workshop.

Don’t be confused by the title of this piece – we do, indeed, have a bath in the house, but it is not frequently used. We keep a cover over it and put other things on top of the cover. It is there if we ever have to soak off crusted-on scabs or make cheap gin. Mostly we use the showers.

Australian showers are a little different from the ones in English hotels. For one thing, they are not often made of plastic. For another, they are big enough to put the entire body in. We often have hot water and many of us use soap and shampoo. My shampoo days are drawing to an end as I get balder, but it is a nice memory and there are always the armpits and the other squidgy bits. I do not use conditioner, as I have no idea what condition it would leave me in and I am not about to experiment. My soap is the cheapest one on the market.

Note 1: I save the soap slivers for use in a shaving mug. It is not necessary for economy as I have five sticks of shaving soap, but there is something primeval about it that appeals. I have offered to shave the rest of the family but they give me funny looks.

Note 2: Being clean need not be a moral thing, if you play your cards right.

The Gumtree Experience

I have participated in the Gumtree* experience several times – bouts of advertisement for unwanted household goods and the subsequent responses. I have come to some conclusions:

a. Paid advertisement is fine if you can have any positive expectation of response. Household goods in a tough market do not provide this – therefore cheap or free advertisement is the wisest thing.

b. On-site advertisements, such as the garage sale posters, are pointless unless you live at the off ramp of the busiest street of the town. Otherwise no-one knows you have anything for sale.

c. Realistic pricing is the key to success. Allow for 10% haggling because there are people who would argue over the price of a new postage stamp with the Postmaster General.

d. You will meet time-wasters, chiselers, and tyre kickers. Hopefully all at once, so that you can set them upon each other. Otherwise just grip your underwear from the inside and usher them out.

e. You will also meet fair customers. Treat them fairly.

f. If you essay to sell something, ask yourself whether it is really worth buying. If not, bin it and regard the dignity that you save as your profit.

g. Regard everything that you do offer as merely trade goods – not mementos, dear possessions, or treasures. If the stuff was any of this, it would still be on your shelves. See it gone with the cheerfulness of a merchant – not the sadness of a collector.

h. Let no-one denigrate your goods. If they’ve come to see them, they are worth seeing.

i. Punctually update or remove old advertisements.

j. Deal only at the front of the house, and with the sound of hearty companionship heard from the back room.

k. No cheques. No promises. No PayPal or offers to transfer money on the mobile phone. Government money in hand. And count it.

l. ” Where did you get this? ” is a fair question…for a magistrate or police officer to ask. Answer them instantly and honestly. Everyone else must be contented with a smile and a blessing.

m. ” Can I bring it back if I don’t like it? ” is also a fair question, and you should give a polite answer. ” No ” is perfectly polite.

n. If something works, make it work before any money changes hands. If something doesn’t work, state that fact clearly in the hearing of witnesses. If it was never meant to work, make that perfectly clear to the buyer.

o. If there’s more than one person in a buying team, address yourself to one only – do all your dealings with that person. Do not let them split your attention.

If there are two or more buying teams, let them look at each other uneasily and offer higher prices. Do not declare the sale finished until you have actual money actually in your actual hand. And the hand has closed tightly.

p. Give gifts occasionally. You can shift a lot of appallingly awkward shit if you make a gift of it. Be kind and ruthless.

*  Free local online selling site.